By Doug Quattrochi, Executive Director
Last summer we were delighted when our civil asset forfeiture bill passed the Senate by a vote of 31 to 9. For the first time since water submetering became law in 2004, landlords can improve the law! This month a new legislative session begins. We are arranging for 11 bills to be filed covering everything from court reform to DIY lawyering, plumbing and electrical. Let me tell you about my favorite, this DIY plumbing and electrical bill.
Since MassLandlords was created in 2014, we’ve watched it get more and more expensive to operate. We don’t mean inflation, which certainly is real. We mean even if you have the money, it’s sometimes impossible to hire help.
Electrical and plumbing skills are in especially short supply! But the law forbids all DIY repairs. Well, maybe not for long. Our DIY electrical and plumbing bill would legalize like-for-like replacement of select water supply, drain and residential electrical components.
Remember That Time You Changed a Light Switch?
We hope not, because changing a light switch is illegal! Unless you are a licensed electrician, a landlord cannot fix a broken switch, secure a loose electrical outlet, replace a lighting fixture or do any number of electrical repairs. This is true even if you learned on YouTube how to repair it safely.
Don’t misunderstand! Shoddy electrical work can kill you or your renter. Being an electrician is a superpower! But like-for-like repairs are the least worthy of an electrician’s years of experience. Especially when you consider that in order to stop climate change, electricians need to be working 110% installing heat pumps and upgrading services. How can our licensed trades carry us into the future when we’re buried in the broken ceiling fans of the past?
The same can be said for plumbing. Did you know it takes 9,160 hours to become a master plumber? Plumbing is a superpower. Plumbers bring us safe drinking water, carry away toxic sludge and bring us gas and refrigerant to heat our homes.
But for comparison’s sake, if instead of being a plumber you wanted to get a Master’s of Science in aerospace engineering, you would only have to study 3,612 hours. That’s right, in Massachusetts a rocket scientist gets less training than a plumber. Is it any wonder we have a dire shortage of plumbers when other career paths are faster? Do you really need to work for 9,000 hours before you can safely and correctly install a SharkBite?
Our bill would make like-for-like repairs available to landlords and contractors who pass a test.
If you like the idea of fixing your own light switches, we have a second DIY bill, “An Act to Equalize Counsel in Eviction Proceedings.” This would reverse decades of case law requiring LLCs to have an attorney.
Before we go into why this is actually a good idea, let’s just be clear that landlord-tenant law can be fiendishly complex. Attorneys possess superpowers that we landlords do not have. There are lots of situations, such as discrimination, discovery, counterclaims and more, where the only sensible way forward is to hire a landlord-tenant attorney. But as with plumbing and electrical, there are also limited aspects of representation that really can be DIY.
Remember LAS Collection Management and RPM Services
Many of us small and mid-sized landlords have LLCs for asset protection. Some LLCs are just a single building under a single investor. So what’s the difference between this and anyone who owns property in their own name, who is free to represent themselves? Landlord-tenant case law has not been kind.
This question was asked in 2006 and the answer did not favor landlords. LAS Collection Management sued to get access to their apartment. The renter allegedly refused access and kept a damaging dog. The court threw out the manager’s case, saying that they had to hire an attorney. Why?
It came up again in 2018, when RPM Services filed summary process cases against two renters. This manager was sanctioned for the unauthorized practice of law, despite the Western Division’s tradition of allowing managers to file. The manager almost ended up with triple damages for not having an attorney (we stopped triple damages, at least). Why?
These cases were simple enough for the managers to litigate on their own.
The harm in forcing landlords to hire unwanted attorneys is more than just higher costs passed through as higher rents for all. The fact that so many LLCs have attorneys gets used by renter advocates to move closer toward a taxpayer-funded right to counsel for renters. This increases costs for the public, for people not even associated with landlord tenant law. Our research shows that the majority of time someone gets forcibly removed from their home, it’s either because they lost hope and failed to appear or because they agreed to an unsustainable payment plan. No amount of lawyering can pay the rent or give hope when the safety net is so bad.
Our research shows that when given the choice, landlords prefer to represent themselves in more than half of all eviction matters. Our bill will give LLCs that choice.
These Plus Eight Other Bills
In addition to civil asset forfeiture, DIY electrical and plumbing repairs, and self-representation for LLCs, we have prepared another eight bills. These bills would improve the commonwealth for all, both today and into the future.
Our bill to address flood risk would create a climate resilient capital, or else help each of us disinvest from flood-prone real estate.
Our bill to force plain English legislation would expand participation opportunities to all of us, especially where legislators hide the true meaning of a law by referencing other laws.
Our bill to disclaim copyright would be the first step in letting us read the building code, instead of paying for a license to read it. (Shouldn’t we be allowed to read the law we have to follow?)
Our bill to increase the lead paint credit from $1,500 to $15,000 per unit would further eliminate lead poisoning and liability for renters and landlords alike.
Our bill to study the eviction moratorium will ensure the courts and mediation are never closed again.
All of this is in addition to our ongoing litigation against the Department of Housing and Community Development. (Did you know they lost 47,000 of our 151,000 applications for pandemic rental assistance?) And Boston’s upcoming rent control law is also in our sights.
We are Leading the Fight for Your Property Rights, Retirement and Business
Since 2014, MassLandlords has been helping to create better rental housing for our commonwealth by advocating for common sense changes to the law and regulation.
We need a lot more staff to do this.
Will you help us hire a full-time policy director? We need another 400 members to join, or else existing members must substantially increase donations to our Property Rights Supporter program. All donations are fully tax deductible as a business investment because we pay the proxy tax. If everyone gave us 1% of rents, we’d become the largest housing advocacy organization in Massachusetts.
Will you volunteer your time to help us get these bills filed? We need you to talk to your representative and senator about the importance of these issues to housing providers and renters in their district. We are conducting training sessions daily through January.
Help us do all these things. Help us to create better rental housing. Please donate generously of time or financial support as your circumstances allow.
Your support will:
- Free staff resources to engage with members, Reps and Senators to file these bills.
- Augment general funds to support marketing outreach to new landlords.
- Build towards a permanently staffed policy role to sustain litigation against DHCD and start litigation against Boston over rent control.
Or first join as a member.