Avoiding Common Landlording Issues with Attorney Henry Raphaelson
Henry: I’m going to go freestyle. You name it, I’m going to go. Thirty-five years of doing this, I could probably talk to you today for about an hour just by what I experienced today at the housing court.
Henry: But I won’t. Today, 4, 5 hours there today, I’m tired. I don’t know why, but at least I’m not a landlord.
Henry: It’s a high job, and the majority of my clients do not understand it is a job, it’s an occupation. It’s 24/7. It’s not easy. Can you make a lot of money? If you know what you’re doing, absolutely! Great tax breaks? Absolutely! I mostly hear the gloom and doom stuff. I don’t hear that much the good stuff, although I have some clients that are very wealthy, so I know they’re very successful because they call me every 5 years and then say, “Henry, I got this issue.” It’s like almost a miracle that they actually have business for me because I trained them well a long time ago.
The first thing you have to understand is there are two parties in this program: landlord and tenant. A lot of people don’t understand that. The most important thing in my mind as a landlord is you got to pick your tenants better. It’s unbelievable how little work people do. Well, they’re breathing.
Henry: Their credit report is all right.
Henry: They make a living, and it’s all right and they can afford the rent, and that’s the extent. Do they bother doing a credit report? Maybe. Do they bother checking the housing court records? Maybe. Do they do what a police officer told me in the ‘80s. He said, “Every tenant, I spend at least 20 hours before I find a good tenant. What do I do? I go to their house at midnight on weekends, see what’s going on. I kind of talk to neighbors, I kind of get the feel of who these people are. I want to know who I’m going to be renting to.”
Most of you, I’m sure, have rented to people over the years that you don’t know them from a hole in the wall other than they look good, everything is fine, and I did a credit report, and they got a good credit report. You don’t know that on their last house, they’ve got 3 or 4 other people living with them. Yeah, there’s a couple of other kids, and before you know it, the reason why they’re being evicted, you never knew because there’s 8 people in a 2-bedroom apartment. It’s just unbelievable the errors and the pitfalls that I see!
But I would say this: the landlord police officer, he ended up losing everything anyway because he didn’t have enough money. I always tell people, “For every unit you have, you should have $5,000. When the roof goes or the heating system goes, you fixed it yesterday. You don’t say, ‘I got to go get a loan from the bank. I got to do this. I got to do that. This is not your house where you can do whatever you want and you could have 30 code violations and nobody cares.’
Tenants expect action immediately, and you’ve got to give to them. If you don’t, that’s where I come in, housing court, tenants, people do not do very well when the tenants have me because quite frankly, I don’t take any cases unless I’m 99 percent sure I’m going to win because otherwise I don’t get paid, so what’s the point of being there.
Henry: I’ve learned a lot over the years representing both sides. It is not an easy job. My, I won’t say code of life, but my position in life is you trust nobody, you believe nothing, and you get it in writing. If people follow that basic rule, half of my business maybe gone. These are not your friends, these tenants. This is a business deal. You’re running a business, and that’s all you’re running.
I mean you have certain requirements and services. I mean you are in Massachusetts. This is the toughest place anywhere probably in this world to be a landlord, but those are the rules. They set up the rules. They told you, “Good luck. You want to be a landlord, fine. You want to make money, fine. A lot of things you can do, fine. But you’re tenant service.”
I learned when I was 8 years old in the grocery business, I’ve been working since I was 8 years old, a long time: the customer is always right. I would say to my grandfather at Raphaelson’s Market, “How is it possible? How is it possible when somebody shoplifted?” and you’ll find peace, and I saw him do it.
I said to my grandfather, “This is crazy! They steal. I’ll take care of it”
“But I don’t understand. Call the police. Do this, do that.”
“We’re running a business. We’ll take care of these things in-house, and we take care of it.”
You have an obligation. They’re your customers. The majority of landlords that I talk to don’t understand that concept. Why they don’t understand it? I don’t know. I knew it at 8 years old. Maybe, I don’t know why people don’t understand it, but you got an obligation. If the tenant says jump, you say how high.
I can’t tell you how many people over the years, tenant asked for something, “I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it”. You got to get to it. You got to do all the work.
First thing, when you have tenants, you don’t rent anything unless the place is done. I can’t tell you how many times people have rented, “Well, I feel bad for them. it’s my cousin’s girlfriend’s friend, and they got nowhere to live.”
Well, they got nowhere to live, I wonder why. Were they evicted from the last place? They have nowhere to live. It’s almost impossible for that to happen. The odds are good they did something stupid, and there they are. I can’t tell you how many people are evicted and then 2 months later, I’m getting a call about some tenant and I say, “I just evicted them 2 months ago. Did you check into them?”
“Oh, yeah. They had a good credit score.”
“Did you go to housing court and checked the file?”
“Well, no, I didn’t do that.”
“Did you go to the house to check out maybe if [unintelligible 0:06:08] coming because they’re being thrown out? Did you go talk to any neighbors, you talked to the landlord?”
“No, it was so-and-so’s cousin.”
You can’t operate like that. I figure—I don’t know if I’m right—but you’ll know better than I do, every bad tenant you get could cost you $3,000 to $5,000 by the time you have to go talk to your lawyer, you got to go to court at your time or whatever, you have to repair, they do damage. You may even have to go to the VN. If you go to VN and you lose a few months’ rent. you could be out $10,000.
You got to know who you’re renting to. You can’t just rent to anybody off the street. You can’t just do it. It’s a very expensive business. You can lose a lot of money doing what you’re doing renting to people who shouldn’t be rented to. you got to know who your tenant is. You don’t know want to know who your tenant is? That’s fine. People like me, I get a lot of cases, tenants cases when landlords don’t do their job. As Bill Belichick always says, “Do your job.”
It’s not the hottest job in the world. Can it be frustrating? Wow, could it be frustrating! Through court orders, I’ve managed on occasion 20, 30 apartments. Fortunately, they were in Northborough. Fortunately, some tenants were from Worcester Tech, the other Worcester Tech, and they were not particularly great tenants, but at least they didn’t destroy things. I might be getting past the kind of damage these people can do.
You got to do inspections of these houses. I can’t tell you how many times people come in and say, “How long have they been a tenant?”
“What kind of tenant are they?”
“They’ve been a terrible tenant.”
“Well, how can they be there years if they’re a terrible tenant?” It’s beyond my comprehension. It makes no sense to me.
“How many times have you inspected the house front to back everywhere?”
“Well, 3 years ago, I was in the kitchen, there was a leak, and I couldn’t find a plumber, so I did it myself.”
They don’t even know what’s going on in these apartments. There’s a reason why the large landlords, Section 8, row housing whatever go into these apartments and look at them every year. I see landlords that are topnotch landlords, but they do the 1-year inspection, there’s 15 things wrong.
I don’t know how you as a landlord can decide, “I haven’t been in the house 2 years. They kept anything broken.” Everything breaks, everything wears out, that’s life. Even if you have a brand-new house, things break. You got to pay attention to business. You can’t let them do whatever they want out there because what do they do? They move in extra people. All of a sudden, you look at the mailbox, there’s 9 people on the mailbox. “That’s my cousin who doesn’t get mail.”
Male Audience 1: It’s true.
Henry: How does that person exist? My cousin who doesn’t get mail? Are they homeless? They sleep in their car? Baloney! They probably live in the house, just all these names.
You got to pay attention. You got to watch. You got to know what’s going on in your buildings. You just can’t live and not be there. I tell my clients, and there’s a lot of them sitting in this room, that “You got to pay attention. You got to be there. you got to go to your place.”
I had a lawyer, a nice fellow whose name I won’t mention, a good guy, probably a lot of you probably know him, he was there every month when I was a tenant years and years ago. “Henry, you need anything done? You need anything done?”
“No, everything is fine. Everything is fine.”
Every single week, every single month like clockwork, “Was there anything wrong?” He was as good a landlord as I’ve ever had in my life, ever seen in my life. He knew, he understood. He’d be out there, sweeping on the sidewalk, picking up every day.
These are some of your responsibilities to do all these foolish things. Do you want to do these things? It’s a pain in the neck, but you got to do it. That way when you’re there, you’re at the property, you can see all these cars. “Are they drug dealers coming around? Are they people living there that shouldn’t be there?”
You should know everything there is to know about the house. I’ve got people, people have people living there for years don’t even know their tenants’ names. “Well, somebody else came in and it’s been a couple of years and so and so. I think they brought in so-and-so a year ago, but I’m not sure.
“Do you know their name?”
I say, “What if they’re a sexual predator, level 3, and you got this 8-unit building with kids all over the place? Don’t you know who your tenants are?”
They don’t know who their tenants are. I’m assuming that most of you in this room know better, but these are the things I see on a day-to-day basis, people just not paying attention to their business, not having enough money, not knowing anything. Every time I do an eviction, even for my major clients, which I have a lot of them.
“Who lives there?”
“I’m not sure. Well, it’s supposed to be so-and-so-and-so.”
“Well, have they moved anybody else in?’
“I don’t know.”
“When was the last time you were there?”
“Well, 4 months ago, they called about a complaint, a leaky sink.”
I said, “Have you been there in 4 months?”
“Well, there’s no reason to be there. They haven’t called, so if they don’t call, everything might be fine.”
I was telling the story before. I had a client, a tenant who had a leak in her place for like a year, and the landlord would never do anything, so finally she stopped paying rent. I said, “Call the board of health.”
Board of health comes in and says, “You have to move.”
“What do you mean you have to move?”
“Well, this water has been leaky for a year, the mold is growing. It’s coming through the walls.” He calls a specialist. They call another guy.
The landlord came down and said, “Well, I don’t have any money. I can’t do anything.” Well, what they did was they condemned the house and tore it down.
Audience: Oh, my gosh!
Henry: Awful! She’s homeless, at least temporary, he just walked away. He didn’t live in the state. He went back to New Hampshire, Maine, I don’t know where he was, but he lived up there somewhere, and the bank ate the money whatever they’re owed, and that was the end.
I asked her, “When was the last time he was down here?”
“Four years ago.”
People, you got to pay attention. You got to know. I can’t tell you how many times I started an eviction and who collected? It’s Pete Smith and Joe Jones. Except for service of the 14-day notice, Mary Thompson. I say, “Who’s Mary Thompson?”
It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Mary Thompson is there and nobody else is there. Who is this? I say, “Go talk to the neighbors.”
“Oh, yeah, Mary moved in about 3 months ago.” I talked to the guy next door, so now I got to go into court, file a motion to add that person in. Why? Because that person gets to stay. If I evicted, that person doesn’t get named, they get to stay. Those are the new stupid rules out of Boston, more rules. It’s almost like you have to be there every day, all day.
You clearly got to look at mailboxes. If you got a mailbox in your building, you should there at least every couple of months, looking at the mailboxes, make sure that on that mailbox, the only people’s names are your tenants.’ I can’t tell you every week, I get an email or a text saying, “Hey, these people live there.”
I said, “Send me the lease.” I look at the lease; two people live there, seven names on the mailbox. Well, one of them is somebody’s child. That’s fine, but you know it’s only a last name, somebody’s child. But it’s always I will bet that there are 10,000 undocumented people in the City of Worcester, and I’m sure I am low. I am low.
Rich: Hey, Henry, you hit upon a couple of livewires here.
Rich: Let’s just take that one, for example. You’re at your properties, you’re paying attention, you’re looking at mailboxes. I actually take a picture of the mailboxes every week, and if a new name pops up, Gwendolyn Property Management, my property, we address that. How do you recommend that somebody addresses a new name on the mailbox?
Henry: That’s the question: who are they? It’s always the same stupid story. “My cousin is in California. He wants to make sure he gets his mail, or that’s my mother-in-law and she’s out of town.” Ninety percent of them are lying, everyone. You say to them, “You straighten this out. I’ll figure who’s there.” You do the inspection. I want to go and inspect. I want to see who’s living there.”
You go in. I had people go in and there’s 12 beds in an apartment, I mean in every corner. You got the living room, you got the dining room. There’s beds everywhere. You don’t know what people are doing there. You got to be there all the time. you got to get the clues. I mean I tell people, “If I was a landlord—” and I wouldn’t be a landlord because I’m just too busy all the time. There’s only 7 days a week and I work 7 days.
But you got to go there at midnight on occasion and see what’s going on. You drive there. This is your building. This thing is worth $300,000 or $400,000, whatever. That’s a lot of money. You got to know what’s going on there. You got to know who’s living there, you got to ask questions. I mean you may have maybe a 3-decker, a 6-decker, and there’s somebody in there you really get along with and you say to them on the side, “Hey, what’s going on over there? I think there’s all kinds of people.”
“Oh, yeah. Six months ago, we saw a truck come in and you dropped off some stuff or whatever.” These are all stuff you’re supposed to know.
Male Audience 2: But you can’t get them out.
Rich: You might do a night inspection and find out if the lights aren’t on, and nobody told you.
Henry: And no electricity, no electricity. I mean I can’t tell you how many people that don’t have electricity out there, who are not paying the bills, and they’re plugging into cars or whatever.
Female Audience 1: Campfire?
Rich: You told me something the other day, so let’s say Jose and Martha moved in, and then all of a sudden, Mary is the name is on the mailbox. You evict Jose and Martha, and Mary is allowed to stay.
Henry: If you don’t name Mary.
Rich: If you don’t do it properly, but let’s say you don’t evict Jose and Martha. Let’s just say they just moved out and leave Mary behind. What did you tell me about the utilities?
Henry: That’s even worse. You have a rental agreement— (1) You don’t rent to anybody without a contract. I don’t care if it’s your mother.
Henry: You don’t rent to anybody without a contract. There’s got to be rules. There are rules when you were 2 years old, 3 years old, 4 years old at home, why are there no rules now? Everybody has to have rules. This is a new job. That’s the other problem. Judge [unintelligible 0:16:15] who I like, has come into Worcester, but she has a Boston bent. In Boston, the rules are entirely different; in Springfield, the rules are entirely different. I was told a long time ago by lawyers, “Henry, do not go to Springfield, do not go to Boston. You will lose your mind.” I’ve listened to them.
Henry: Because I don’t like wasting time. I like everything done in 5 seconds, and in those places, I was just wasting my time. In any event, I had a hearing. I had a client that has probably 100 units, probably collects $30,000 cash a month maybe more, who knows how much he collects. Very few checks; it’s all cash, and his system is not that great. He’s very wealthy, so he can afford any loss that he takes, he can afford anything. He’s made a ton of money over the years.
But his policy always is a bit loose because he’s rather paid me to clean up the messes than to hire more staff and whatever, which is fine. Good for me. The new rule is if you sign a written contract with somebody, they bring other people in, all of a sudden, you’re getting checks from they say that’s my mother-in-law whoever it is. If that person is a new tenant and you’re collecting rent from them and the tenant moves out, then the rental agreement is void as a matter of law.
When the rental agreement is void as a matter of law, you don’t have a rental agreement. What does that mean? You’re now paying the heat and the electricity for that apartment. If they come into court, the court will issue a restraining order saying, “You took money from somebody you shouldn’t have, you didn’t pay attention. They have no agreement to pay utilities. You pay it.” Into your name goes the utility bill, and oil has gone down a little bit. In the old days, it will cost you a fortune.
But if this is November, they’re going to court and the judge orders you to put the electricity oil in your name. Now you have a tenant with no contract, the utilities are in your name. I was shocked when I saw that decision. It kind of makes sense a little bit. It’s saying to landlords pay more attention. My guy that collects the cash, there’s no way he’s going to pay attention. If he gets hit again, he gets hit again. He doesn’t care because it’s in his best interest. He can’t be hiring another guy to see who’s paying the money every month. As long as the money comes in, apartment number 2 at 12 Jones Street, he’s happy. He doesn’t care who’s paying it.
When we start an eviction, I want to know everybody’s name in there because you got to get every single person on the summons. I mean now you got the law that passed I think it was in January “and all other occupants,” so that you can get a mother, you can get a child or something like that. You don’t have to name them.
What I do now, if I don’t know who anybody is, I jaw, “5 foot 7-inch, white person, weighs 180, above 60 years of age.” In that way, when the van comes to take them away, they’re going to take the 5-foot 7-1/2 person because he got the notice.
Rich: This is the exact advice that Nick Moudios, the housing court clerk—
Rich: Gave to us, so absolutely [laughter]. We’re going to open up to questions here. You have talked about screening though, which is really big topic, and you talked about checking someone’s housing court record. I’m going to make a quick public service announcement. Is everybody aware of masscourts.org, the free site where you can look the stuff up while you’re setting the appointment with them to see the apartment? If you’re not familiar with this, someone at your table is, but it’s masscourts.org. It’s really, really easy to use.
Despite the fact that it is really, really easy to use, we are about to reject somebody who has been evicted 4 times in the last 10 years, most recently in 2017, in May. But that means that the last three landlords, who accepted this woman, didn’t check. The first will get to pass, right? Not the second one; there’s no reason. I don’t mean just like they were taken to court. I mean I’m talking about an execution like this went all the way to the end and they still accepted her. If you run across anybody named , go to masscourts.org. She’s going to be apartment shopping tomorrow.
Rich: And we are going to go around the room with some questions.
Henry: I want to point out one more thing. (1) The first check, security deposit, everything, bank check. No personal checks. I can’t tell you how many people collects personal checks.
Rich: Why? Why not?
Henry: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Rich: What happens after they move in but the check bounces?
Henry: They’re screwed.
Henry: Okay, they got somebody there that hasn’t paid any money. Now you got to deal with them. See, half the time or quarters of the time, they get the money back, okay but then there’s all the extra work for you. These are not your friends.
Henry: These are strangers on the street that you put into a building that you own. I mean you’re have the babysitter, you’re the teacher, you’re the cop, you got to do this. You have so many hats, it’s frightening—the referee, you’re everything. Do not be doing things like that because again it’s money thrown down a hole for no reason. That’s how I lose a lot of my landlords.
Rich: That’s our new tagline for MassLandlords, “Money thrown down a hole for no reason. That’s the opposite if you don’t join.”
Rich: You also mentioned that police officer landlord went to people’s houses and stuff like that and checked them out. That’s something that I think not a lot of people do. When you said he went out of business, I thought it was like because of stalking charges or something.
Rich: But if anybody in the room has a way that they go about doing that, feel free to pipe up. I’m going to go around with the mike.
Brian: I was taking a lot of notes when you were describing this. What was the exact event that triggered the utilities going back into the landlords’ name? Could you give me like the ABC of what happened there?
Henry: Yeah, very simple. The new tenant how doesn’t have a pot to piss in as they say, all of a sudden, the utilities went up because they were in the name of the person that took off, so she wakes up one morning, no utilities. She goes to court and files a restraining order and says, “Hey, I got no utilities, and I never agreed to pay the utilities. They were never in my name. I didn’t sign a contract. They took my money.”
Brian: I’m missing stuff here. New tenant moves in, new tenant pays rent.
Rich: We were talking about old tenants move out, but the—
Henry: New tenant.
Rich: The tenant you never approved, you never had a lease with is still there after they move out.
Henry: And you took money from.
Brian: Okay. mystery tenant you took money from.
Henry: Mystery tenant because it was cash and that’s what how guy operates: cash, cause. This may have been the rule all the time and nobody ever brought it to court. This is 3, 4 months ago, so she comes in and says, “Hey, I didn’t agree to pay utilities.” And she doesn’t know from anything. She has no utility that’s docked. She doesn’t know from anything. The other person probably abandoned her. One day, all of a sudden, she woke up and they were gone. Her friend, someone she met on the street 3 weeks ago, her friend.
Henry: She comes into court and the judge found, “Hey, you got not agreement. Here’s a receipt in her name.” Then you started a brand-new tenancy. Since you started a brand-new tenancy and you have no utility agreement, you’re responsible for utilities because that is the law of the state: no utility agreement, nothing in writing, you pay for utilities. Too bad. That’s why we don’t rent to anybody without a contract ever!
Female Audience 2: If we have a tenant who has a sister who just moved in whether it’s for a month or 6 months until she’s back on her feet, we rewrite the lease, add the name, have them both sign it? What do we do?
Henry: If they agree and you vet them because you got a check. They’re maybe their sister but they may have killed 2 people in Nebraska, you don’t know.
Female Audience 2: I mean assuming it’s the sister and it’s good.
Henry: The sister is good and they want to go on the lease and she vets all right, then you got a second person in there to help pay for the rent, so it may be all right. But it depends on what kind of your tenant is. If your tenant is a bad tenant, I’m not sure you want to inherit a second person that maybe bad with her. If your tenant is a good tenant, a solid tenant, been there for a while—
Female Audience 2: Yeah.
Henry: Why not? If you vet them, they got a good credit score—
Female Audience 2: You add them to the lease.
Henry: You add them to the lease.
Henry: But you can’t take any money from that sister at all because if the other sister leaves one day because she’s pissed off with this sister and says, “I’m gone. The apartment is yours. See you later.” Then you got this potential problem because you have nothing in writing saying what the rules are with the second sister.
Rich: One thing you could do is if you have a “no additional occupants” clause in your contract that you have, you could motivate the current tenant with an eviction notice, say, “Listen, I’ll tear this thing up if you just have the person fill out this application. I just need to know who’s living in the building.”
Henry: Yeah, you have leverage.
Rich: You have leverage.
Henry: One time in this landlord and tenant thing when you have leverage, when the lease expires, those are the times you have a lot of leverage. You don’t have a lot of leverage if you just let them sit there and they’re there and you can’t come back and say, “I never rented to them.”
“But how long have they been living there?”
“I don’t want to hear from it.” You agreed by doing nothing.
Russ: I have a question, Henry. Thank you. Companion pets, that’s become a big thing lately for request from people. I understand certain certifications from a doctor diagnosing a medical need or emotional disability that requires it.
Assuming I have one with legitimate companion pet in their apartment and that pet never stops barking, driving the other residents of the building crazy, infringing on their right to quiet use and enjoyment, can I evict that tenant without being discriminatory because they have a disability, they need the pet, if it’s infringing on the others; and the tenant won’t do anything to curb it?
Henry: Absolutely! You go in for a restraining order because now you have potential 2, 3, 4, 5 other families that could file a lawsuit against you for breach of quiet enjoyment because you’re not doing your job.
The other thing I will say about the companion pet is it’s like apples on a tree now, any mental health professional can do it. You don’t need a doctor anymore. It could be who knows what. it says mental health persons. That could be a nurse, that could be almost anything.
Male Audience 3: Like a plumber [laughter]?
Henry: No, you got to have a degree of some kind.
Male Audience 3: Social worker.
Henry: Social worker I think can do it, although I don’t know about the social worker. Licensed clinical social worker probably could do that, so that’s the problem. Pretty soon, everybody will have pets.
Peter: If you’re going to refi and you’ve had your way over the lookback period the existing mortgage and you get another mortgage, can you possibly preserve that lookback period or just start over as a new lien?
Henry: How do I know?
Henry: I’m a lawyer!
Henry: Ask that—
Rich: We do have Don Mancini, he’s a mortgage broker, who might be able to answer that better, so hold that thought.
Male Audience 4: I have a simple question. If I want to go and investigate what’s going on in the apartment, give me several methods of notifying the people before I go in and do it that becomes legal. I’ve been very fortunate I can talk to most of them, but sometimes you can’t, so what is a legal method of applying? Leave a note on the door, or hand them notes, saying, “I’m going to come in within 24 hours to look over the apartment.” Is that a process?
Henry: Well, the first process should be in your lease, you should have automatically writing your lease once a year or twice a year, I lean towards twice a year, but that’s up to you. I mean RCAP and housing authority, everybody else does it once a year. I lean towards twice a year because every time I see RCAP thing, I get reports that everything is fine, the next year there’s 30 problems with the apartment, so I might want to go after every 6 months, so I can get a head start on what’s going on, so when RCAP or somebody comes along, I would have fixed everything.
Yeah, if you can just do it by phone or talk to them, whatever, again you should be if you have a good relationship with your tenants, and some do and some don’t, you should be at your property along and everyone should go by and say, “Hey, do you mind if I go look at the property?” I mean I know it’s not 24-hour notice, but I just want to check. I got my putty. I want to see what you need fixed.” That’s the first thing: I’m here to see what you need fixed.
You got to be their friend. That’s another one of your jobs.
Henry: That’s one of your jobs.
Rich: This is a long list of jobs.
Henry: Well, it’s probably 50 jobs. You’re everything for these people.
Rich: Actually, we had that on the screen at one of our meetings, the list of all the jobs.
Henry: Let me finish answering that question, though. If that doesn’t work, maybe a text or email. If that doesn’t work, a letter. If that doesn’t work, court order, restraining order. restrain them from going in, say, “Judge, I haven’t been in this apartment for 9 months, 10 months, I just want to do an inspection. They won’t let me in.”
The other thing is say, “Look, if you won’t let me in, I’m going to evict you. I don’t want to evict you. You’re a good tenant, blah, blah, blah, but again I want to make sure that as my mother always used to say twice a year, she’d have a handyman in there for a whole day. She says, and if she’d even fix things before they were even broken almost.”
In 30 years of owning that house, there was a new roof and siding. Nothing else that costs more that costs more than $200. Why? Because anytime, anything looked like, “There’s a little leak here. Do I need it?”
Plumber will say, “Don’t fix it. Don’t do that. put a new pipe in. I don’t want to wake up some morning and have a leak in a whole other place.”
Male Audience 5: [unintelligible 0:30:30]
Henry: That’s what you have to do.
Rich: If we have time, our company actually gets into all the apartments every single one of them every 3 months. If we have time, I can go over a couple of thing with that.
Female Audience 3: Quickly, Henry, on the companion pets just to follow up. If people have abutting neighbors within the building have a complaint about allergies based on someone’s companion animal, have you seen where that’s gone with the courts?
Henry: I have not, and I don’t know. Allergy issues…
Female Audience 3: You know a cat or a dog, companion moves in and the people start next door say I’m allergic to it.
Henry: Well, I don’t know how you can be allergic to the wools. I don’t know how bad it could be. What I’m saying is I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t know how that stuff just kind of flows. I understand what you’re saying. It would be very difficult. Unfortunately, the person with the allergy may have to move somewhere because I don’t know or they have to move the other person in the building. I’ve had clients on occasion especially the ones that, I got a few of them. I got 20 or 40 units and more, they would move because when those things happen, they would kind of move people in the complex, but normally you can’t do that. You got discrimination laws when they got the patent whatever, the fact that somebody got allergies, life is tough.
I mean again maybe in your application, you could see who has allergies. I don’t know what the rules are what you can ask what you can’t ask about allergies and say, “Look, dogs may move in. Do you have any allergies? It’s going to be a dog issue.” In that way, you may not have to move somebody into the apartment next door to them because you know that there’s a pet companion pet coming in. I guess another job that you…
Rich: We have a question.
Male Audience 6: Quick follow-up to the pet question. Can you have a kicker in the lease saying you don’t have a pet now, but if you get one, that’s an extra $50 a month or whatever?
Henry: No, no, no. It’s illegal.
Male Audience 6: Okay.
Henry: Yeah, you can have a no-pet clause but again companion is almost too bad. That circumvents everything.
Brian: Service animals are not pets. Russ and the other two people are talking about service animals and I think you touched on a little bit. Can we put in our leases a service animal clause something to the effect that should you require a service animal, that service animal needs to not interfere with the peaceful environment, can’t cause dander that will interfere with allergies? Can we make a laundry list of I don’t want to say restrictions but requirements for that service animal?
Henry: I doubt it.
Brian: But what about peaceful, quiet enjoyment? Russ is going to lose three other tenants.
Henry: Again, you have to go for a restraining order and let the judge what the problem is or isn’t. The problem with the service animals, there’s not much peace and quiet. Service animals are trained so well it’s frightening. I had trials –
Rich: Companion animals aren’t trained at all.
Henry: Companion animals are different, but you said service animals.
Brian: Yes, I did. I apologize. Companion—all right, so I’m going to scratch service and put companion animals here. If we say companion animals, can we put something in the lease because we hear all the time from the judges and the clerks and everything, if it’s in writing in the lease and they signed it, it counts. I’ll leave it at that.
Rich: There probably isn’t a case about this yet, right?
Henry: No, I have never seen a case.
Rich: I mean companion animals are a relatively new thing.
Henry: I have never had a case when somebody has come in and say, “Someone is allergic to something.” I never had one out of 35 years of doing this.
Brian: It’s common.
Henry: Well, everything is common, but I mean I had trials over people that said they were service animals and the judge found out they weren’t a service animal. It was somewhat service animals and out they had to go. It was very sad for the poor woman in the wheelchair, but you got to do what you’re told. If you don’t want to do what you’re told, then out you go. But that was a year of work and very, very expensive work. You never want that to happen to you.
Brian: I can write a clause and have my lawyer look at it.
Henry: It sounds fair to me. He may not be able to find any law in that. I mean the problem with service animal, companions, anything, you get involved with discrimination. You go up there and they start filing discrimination case against you, and you lose. You’re out a lot of money. As a lawyer, I wouldn’t even make that determination unless I could see a case written in Massachusetts or somebody made a decision, I wouldn’t let you do that.
Brian: It would be Lucier versus Snoopy.
Henry: [unintelligible 0:35:18].
Rich: Henry brings up a good point that the service animals are really well-trained and anybody who’s had them, you probably have not had problems with them. The companion animals are not trained, they’re a different story. Having said that, I haven’t ever heard of anybody being allergic through wools, of anything. These are questions that really haven’t been answered yet, and we have a lot of other things that we could. If you want to talk to Henry about animals about afterwards, that’s definitely a good idea. In addition to that, if somebody wanted to read up on other aspects of the law that didn’t necessarily involve companion animals, what areas of the law should every landlord know?
Henry: Well, first thing the security deposit law. I see maybe, except for the major landlords that I have, 6 or 7 of them, 95 percent of them screw up the security deposit. Security deposit is like a hand grenade. If you make a mistake on it, it’s triple damages plus attorney’s fees. The beauty of that though is that you just give it back. Somebody makes a demand on it, you give it back. Read Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186 Section 15B someday. I don’t understand it.
Henry: It’s written by idiots.
Henry: Okay so the odds of you doing everything right, every year I read it, and every time somebody comes up with a security deposit issue and I think once in the last 20 years, I’ve said, “You know you’ve done it all right, so you don’t have to return it.” But everybody else, return the security deposit, everybody else because either the receipt was no good, or the bank account was no good, or the paperwork, they had to give up the first day with the certificate of condition whatever, and as long as I’m talking about that, when you rent to somebody, the place better be perfect or as close to perfect as possible the first day.
Henry: Don’t be renting things to people saying, “I want to be in next week. I’m going to fix this, I’m going to fix that.” That’s a nightmare. “Oh, I’m busy. I don’t have time.” Before you know it, the board of health has called. Three months have gone by, they let you in. “They rented me this place. It’s crap.” The law is very simple: you rent a place and it’s not in tip-top shape, the damage started the day you give them the key. You don’t rent. “Well, you know it was somebody that was a friend of a friend and they were being evicted from their house…so somebody was selling house, and I had to get them in that day. I knew there was a lot of work to be done, but they agreed to this and that.”
No! Nobody agrees to anything. The work is done and when you rent to somebody, go through the unit, the whole unit with the person, and show them how to use everything. Show them how to flush the toilet if they don’t know how to do it. I mean really everything, how to use the refrigerator, how to use that. I can’t tell you how many people call, “Well, I wasn’t really sure how to change the temperature. I wasn’t sure of this. The heater doesn’t work.”
Spend a half hour. They may appreciate you, they may not, but if you spend a nice half hour with them, say, “Look, I’m going to go through this the whole thing. I’m going to show how to use everything, the blinds, the shades.” I mean there are some people out there that don’t particularly know almost anything. They don’t know how to use a shade or a blind. It’s your job to show them.
Then they break and you say, “Well, the tenant broke these things!” The tenant doesn’t know anything. You’re the landlord, your responsibility, you got to tell them everything. Don’t be giving keys to people for the place because it’s easy. You walk in there, it’s empty. There’s nothing there. It’s easy to go over the sink, “Let’s turn the sink on, make sure it works. Let’s look under the sink, see if there’s a leak. Let’s make sure this was fine, the blinds aren’t broken, nothing is broken.” How hard is that?
Male Audience 7: I can [unintelligible 0:38:58].
Henry: Does almost nobody do that?
Henry: Almost nobody does it.
Male Audience 7: [unintelligible 0:39:01]
Rich: We’re getting some request from the back to hold the microphone up a little closer.
Henry: Okay, sorry.
Rich: Not only is that good for liability to document everything. You get them to sign off that everything in the apartment is good. It’s also good customer service because people would apricate that you were thorough and actually cared enough to take care of the place.
Henry: Absolutely! They’re your customer, absolutely! They’re going to be thrilled. “This landlord is great. I’ve had landlords all my life. Will they show me anything? Do they anything No! They say, “Here’s the key,” take the money, away they go. No! you got to get it off on a good foot with them because eventually you’re probably going to be enemies with them.
Rich: Well, hold on a second [laughter]!
Henry: Because you’re going to want the rent on time and you’re going to say, “You haven’t paid rent in 2 weeks.”
They’re going to say, “What’s your problem?” I mean it’s only question of time before there’s a problem. There are some terrific tenants out there, and let’s say it’s 20 percent, but you got 80 percent problems or potential problems.
Rich: And a good relationship stalls a lot of problems, if not eliminates them altogether. A lot of things come out because the landlord gets in a pissing contest with somebody or somebody feels ignored. Have you found that to be the case?
Henry: On occasion, I actually go to mediation and somebody says, “Well, I really don’t have much to say. I’ve been with this my landlord for 5 years. Every time I call, he does as he’s supposed to be, do, and everything is fine.” That’s rare, but I got a lot of landlords who have been trained for a lot and lot of years to understand that if they say jump, you say how high.
Judge [unintelligible 0:40:25] who’s probably 85 now, used to do appeals court out of housing court and he used to mediate it, and he will always say, “Henry, sometimes a landlord just got to take it. If they’re not doing everything they’re supposed to do, sometimes you just have to give them some money and walk away. If they do everything they’re supposed to do, don’t give them a penny.”
There’s a judge, Braskin I think said, “You know the law is a very simple in this state. Landlords have almost no rights. However—
Henry: “However, if they do everything they’re supposed to do, they come in front of me, they cross their T’s, dot their I’s, I’ll kick the tenant out. I have no problem doing it. But how many cases you think I see that landlords are doing their job correctly?” That’s how he left it.
Rich: Now when you and I talked the other day, you mentioned Chapter 186 Section 15B of the Security Deposit Law like you just did, but you also had recommended that we read the entirety of Chapter 186, so I took some notes. Section 3 is Tenancy at Sufferance, Liability for Rent; Section 5 is Action to Recover Rent, I’d like to recover rent. Evidence, Section 7 Remedies of Landlords, Section 8 Recovery of Rent Accruing Before Extermination of Lease.
Section 17 Occupancy—I’ve never heard of Section 17. I actually didn’t really look into a lot of these sections until you had advised me to do that. Section 17 Occupancy Constituting Tenancy at Will and Termination. Section 18 Reprisal for Reporting Violations of Law or for Tenants’ Union Activity, Damages, and Cause in Case Tenants Unionize.
There’s a lot of stuff in Chapter 186 that I think does get overlooked if we only read 15B, so I thought that was really good advice.
Henry: I talk to a landlord today. Probably he’s a lawyer. He’s also been a landlord I bet for 45 years. He said to me, ‘Henry, are you seeing that things are getting worse out there?”
I said, “Yeah, it’s getting worse out there because there are more and more amateur landlords out there.” Quite frankly, he’s been a landlord for 45 years and I really like him, he’s a good guy, but too many complaints over the years about his work. Therefore, when he says he has problems, I’m not sure that he’s not causing the problems. However, there’s still some bad landlording out there, some bad understanding, and you just have to be hands on with these people because especially young people. You got tenants at 20, 21, 22, they don’t know which end is up, so I went back I didn’t know anything at 21, 22. I don’t know of everybody else here, maybe they know a lot more than me. I didn’t know.
When I was going for my first apartment, I went with a couple of kids who really know their stuff. “This apartment looks great.”
They said, “No, this apartment is crap.” We finally found a good apartment. We found the perfect landlord. It was fine, but would have I taken that first apartment? Absolutely because I didn’t know any better, and these kids don’t know any better.
Again, one of your jobs is father and mother to these people, help them out. Show them the way. Be nice. If they call you up at 3 o’clock in the morning, saying something has happened, you don’t do, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
“Well, I have no lights.”
“I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
I mean I know you can’t do the electric work, but at least you can drive over there at 3 o’clock. Too bad, you took a 24/7 job. You go over there and said, “Look, this is a problem. I’ll get you an electrician tomorrow. I know you got a real problem. I can’t fix it. You don’t want me fooling around with this because I’m liable to burn the building down.”
Rich: And they know that not every landlord does that, and if you do that for them, you’re going to have a good relationship with them. It will save you headaches later on, right?
Henry: Absolutely! People remember nice things that other people do because most people don’t do nice things. That’s just the world we live in.
Rich: Which is very sunny.
Henry: Yeah. Reality.
Rich: Yeah, so it goes. Let’s talk about a couple of tenant traps that you have set that are landlord traps that you have set, so you have a tenant as a client and they bring you their case, and then you put together a strategy and you set out the snare for the landlord to walk right into it. What does that look like?
Henry: First thing, send them a letter you got a problem. None of this text crap and phone calls and this email. In my world, if it’s important you send a letter. Nobody sends letters; judges love letters. I’m not interested in these texts; when you get them back and you go to court, the texts are cut off, I don’t know what date it is, you can’t find anything. Nothing like a letter. Judges love letters. I think somebody in the audience told me and said every 3 months he does—it’s interesting—every 3 months he sends out a thing, “How am I doing as a landlord? The winner gets $25.”
They all send it back. One tenant sent back, everything was fine. Great landlord, everything is perfect. Three months later, he’s in court with them. They said, “Judge, everything is bad.”
“Judge, here’s the letter. Here’s the letter. Here’s the letter. Everything is fine.”
Henry: Brilliant, brilliant, all right. Again, these aren’t your friends, and people think they are. There’s a trap. Again, I write a letter. Do they respond? No. What happens next? I said, “If they don’t respond to you in 3 days, send a second letter. It’s $0.49 per stamp. It’s a beautiful thing. Don’t send it out either. Then I send them a letter, and if that doesn’t work, call the board of health and say, “Judge, here’s the 2 letters. Here’s my letter. Here’s the board of health report. Bad landlord. That landlord is dead.”
Rich: The trick is to read your mail, and if it comes from one of your residents telling you something, you should take it seriously if they mailed it to you.
Henry: Well, I always tell people, “People ignore letters from lawyers, consumer protection.” I mean I always tell people, “If a lawyer sends you a letter, even if he’s an idiot, he doesn’t know anything, he’s sending you a letter. Maybe something is there is right when he says, “Fix this, do that, whatever, security deposit issues. I can’t tell you how many people get these letters, demand letters and whatever and they ignore them.” They come back to them 2 months later, and they say, “Henry, what do I do with this?”
I said, “What are you talking about? You’ve already missed the 3-day deadline, so you’re dead. Somebody thinks it’s true. Yeah, you take care of it.”
“No, I was busy. I didn’t get my mail. I was on vacation.”
You’re not on vacation. You’re a landlord; you’re never on vacation.” I can’t tell you how many times. I only get my mail once a week. I got landlords that say once a week.”
What world do you live in? You got tenants out there. I got guys that have 100 units. Well, I go to the post office. I go there once a week.
I said, “Go there every day, every day, and if you get letters from anybody saying anything you take care of it. It’s easy. “Hey, Judge, I got a letter. Here’s the date. Here’s the thing. I got a receipt. I fixed it.”
When they say they sit for about 2 months, no they haven’t sat there for 2 months. No, they haven’t sat there for two months. They’re setting you up. Respond, fix, it’s not a big deal. You want to be a landlord. Spend the money. Fix it. Make the tenant happy, and you probably won’t have a lawsuit.
I would say 50 percent of the evictions I do, 50 percent 40 percent are the landlords’ fault. Why? Because the first thing you do before you start even think about setting out an eviction notice, you call the tenant up and you don’t say, “Yeah, you haven’t paid the rent, blah, blah, blah.”
You say, “Look, I want to do an inspection. I want to see if you need anything done.”
“I don’t need anything done.” Fine. You send them a letter. “[unintelligible 0:48:01] of fact, I talked to you on September 3rd at 2:00 PM and you said there’s nothing wrong with your apartment.” Then the next day, here’s the 14-day notice. “Judge, I wrote the letter. I called them.” These are simple things to do.
Rich: You’re documenting a verbal conversation—
Rich: In writing?
Henry: Yeah, absolutely! Back to the first rule: we trust nobody, we believe nothing, and we get it in writing. That’s how you should operate. People said, “Henry, how do you operate like that?”
“I don’t know. No one has ever reported me to the board [unintelligible 0:48:35] in 35 years. I haven’t got a divorce, and life is good.” I have no issues. Why? Because I send emails at 2 o’clock in the morning to people.
Male Audience 8: Yes.
Henry: Why? He knows. Just because I know people on Apple. Some people will email me back right away, “Why are you up so late?”
I’m saying, “Well, I need to send it immediately.”
Male Audience 8: I think I’m going to [unintelligible 0:49:01]
Henry: No. Sometimes I wake up early in the morning and say and then I just send out emails because it’s easy. You just send things up. I mean everything has to be in writing. You should have a file for every single one of your tenants every time they call you what the complaint is, and what you did about it. That’s why when you go to court, you got this file, and the tenants starts talking about what you did wrong.
“Well, Judge,” keep his records, and they say, “on May 17th. They didn’t talk on May 17th. They did talk to me on May 19th. On May 19t, they asked for whatever, on May 22nd, here’s my receipt for the work done.”
When they’re in court and their back is against the wall, they’re going to make things up. I don’t know how many times I’ve had landlords get whacked because well, “I don’t remember. That was 3 months ago.”
“Where are your records?’
“Well, don’t have any records.”
Rich: Henry, how often does a judge see a landlord come in with meticulous records, with all the dates, and exactly what happened.
Henry: Five percent.
Rich: Probably about as often as Don Mancini’s loan officers see nonclients bringing a well-packaged presentation, right? That’s kind of the theme tonight. You have to take the time to document everything to make yourself look good, right?
Henry: Absolutely! Your biggest problem is going to be in front of that court and I can’t tell you how much money I’ve won for tenants over the years. I know it’s in the millions, that I know, but why? Ninety percent of the time or more, it’s the tenant’s fault. Sometimes—
Rich: But that doesn’t prevent them from winning?
Henry: It doesn’t prevent them from winning because the rules are, here are the rules: do your job. If you don’t do your job right, we’re going to kill you because that’s what the rules are. This is not an easy job. You can help make it easy by doing your job properly and keeping your records and be hands-on and looking at your buildings and not—I mean I got guys that live in Boston and they got buildings in Southbridge. How do they do that? I have no idea. They hire people from Southbridge to manage their property.
I always get this story from the tenants, “Oh, yeah. They’re hiring people, and I see them shooting up in the back. Yeah, I do this, I do that because of course they’re paying $15, $10 an hour to kind of be whatever they kind of be, so that’s the problem.
Rich: So, do you have a few minutes to hang around because I know people still have questions.
Henry: I got all the time. I love to answer questions.
Rich: Okay, all right, so a couple of takeaways. Do your job or we’ll kill you. You’re going to end up enemies with everybody. Nobody is your friend.
Tyvm1, everybody. Have a great night.
Henry: Thank you.