Attorney Henry Ralphaeson
Attorney Henry Ralphaeson
Attorney Henry Ralphaeson - Henry
Richard Merlino – Rich
Henry: Hi! First of all, I don’t do divorces anymore. Beyond the beauty of the internet is the fact that you get on the Internet, it says you do something and sometimes you stop doing it, but it never goes away. I heard the other day that I do evictions in New Hampshire. I don’t think I know a person in New Hampshire, never mind doing evictions in New Hampshire. My sister, who did divorces for a living is now retired. She’s a few years younger than me, but she’s had enough.
I always refer to evictions as midget divorces, but at least they go away except when they don’t. I used to think that I would have seen everything with 16,000 evictions and connected cases. The number of cases I’ve done is probably 30,000 but evictions and whatever is about 16,000. This year has taught me more than anything else that it’s unbelievable how much trouble landlords can get themselves in.
I get stories almost now on a weekly basis of things and people say, “I bet you haven’t heard something like this before,” and I say, “You’re right. I haven’t.” It’s a business, people. You have to pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble.
The latest one I’ve heard, this is interesting. This gentleman and allegedly his wife is still around out there and I don't know if they’re married or not because I can’t believe a word they say. What they do is they have judgements in the housing court of $120,000. Now why would people still be renting to these people? I can’t figure it out.
They don’t rent. Most of you probably would never see them because they’re only renting things between $2,200 and $3,500. I don't know if they scout out these landlords, I don't know what they do, but they show up, pretending that one works for UPS, I don’t remember what the other one does. Unfortunately, when the typing is the same and the paper is the same, you might think that somebody would wake up and say, “How is this possible to get things from UPS and somewhere else in the same paper in the same type print?”
What they do is they give you a first, last, and security, which could $7,000 or $8,000, and of course those checks are no good and you’re going to get another cheque. Basically it’s free and they end up with a van happy to take them away. Besides the judgment, these landlords are out paying between $24,000 depending how big the house is and that tells me who knows how many schemes there are out there. The fact that these people are renting to people like this and they’ve been doing this since 1999.
Now 1999, that’s in the Worcester Housing Court. Who knows if they leave the county and do the same thing all the time? I actually was lucky enough to share to a victim twice, but they’ve been evicted three times this year, so three times they’ve done this and basically lived for three for free three times in these nice houses. I think one was Shrewsbury, one was West Boylston. Those were my two. I don't know what my third one was.
The answer is anytime anybody says, “Have you heard anything like this before?,” there’s always another story. Landlords got to be vigilant. You’ve got to make sure that at least on these applications that what you see on the applications is actually true.
I don’t say too much is not true, but usually when I get a landlord in labor after he’s had a problem. I’d like to look at the application. I said, “Did you call this person?” “Yes, I called this person.” “Let’s check and see if they really own this property.” “No. They don’t own it.” Who knows who they were. It’s just the phone number.
If it was me, and of course, I can’t be a landlord. It’s just too much work. I work seven days a week with landlords and tenants because this year I think I’ve had more evictions than any year ever. Now I’m not sure if the Housing Court has more evictions than anywhere.
What’s happening is I represent a lot of big clients, clients that have hundreds of units, and they are down with their evictions. But the whole new group of landlords that are coming into town don't know what they’re doing, aren’t willing to join groups like this and don't have a clue and wonder what happened. I don't wonder what happened at all. I mean I assume that every tenant that comes to you is lying.
I mean I’ve had a rule for—and I’ve been a lawyer for 37 years, but that’s okay. I’ve had a rule for a long time: we trust nobody, we believe nothing, we get it in writing. It makes life easy because if people are telling the truth, if they are telling the truth, it’s great. I feel great when I confront people who are telling the truth. But my father who was a district court judge for years, his position was always, “His story, her story, or whatever, and the truth. There’s no way that everyone is telling the truth all the time.”
Sometimes they’re telling the truth that they thought was the truth, but it wasn’t. Judge Martin, who was the first housing court judge in Worcester would say, “I’m a human lie detector. I know everybody thinks they’re telling the truth, but they’re not, although I did have a case once we went to a trial about 45 minutes and he called me up to the bench afterwards and he said, “That was unbelievable.” I said, “I said, “I know. First time I’ve ever been in a trial that both people were telling the truth, the whole truth. Both people were telling the truth.” He said, “Now, I just got to figure out what the law is, but at least, they have the truth. You don't have to worry about that position.”
One thing that really bothers me and it’s bothered me for 35 years and will continue to bother me, that landlords do not document conversations with tenants. They do not write things down. If I was the landlord, I would have a book with me at all times. Every conversation I have with a tenant, I write down what was said, what I said, whatever because I had somebody today answering the counterclaim, the whole crap today.
“When did you talk to him?” ‘Well, I’m not sure.” I said, “This has been going on for a year.” I said, “I need some dates. They’re going to be sitting there, making up dates. Unless you have records, how am I going to disprove what they’re saying?” Well, what’s wrong with you? You’re not aggressive enough, whatever.” I tell people the same thing.
I know the law, so 99.9 percent of the time, I know what the judge is going to do, so when I give people advice, they don’t like it, a lot of them don’t like it because they’re lousy landlords and I’ve reached a point in my life I can tell people they’re lousy landlords. They may not like it, but I tell them that and I’m fooling all around, so we can have questions, but I like to just go free flow through this.
Any of you that have been [unintelligible 0:07:50] people they’ve never done an eviction, congratulations! I don't know how you did it, but congratulations, although I would say I had a gentleman who have 100 units and in 25 years, he had about four or five evictions, but what he used to do anytime there’s a problem, he just gave people $50. “You have a problem?” Okay, here’s $50. Take your family out to eat.” That was his answer. It worked perfectly. He may have given out a few hundred dollars a year, sometimes for no reason, but people were happy and he didn’t have to hire me, so he saved the fortune over the years.
For any of the business in housing court and gone to mediation, you know that sometimes a landlord or a tenant, or somebody goes out the hall to chat in the middle, and I do it a lot because I got a lot of people that are always pissed off about something. They did a bag job with the landlord and they’re mad. They could be mad at themselves, but they’re mad at me for some reason.
I take them out, and they say, “Who do you represent? The tenant or me?” I just tell them, “Look, I know the law. I know what the judges is going to do. You want to go to trial. I got a piece of paper. You want to sign it. I’m not going to trial with you because you’re going to lose, so sign a piece of paper, confirming you’re going to lose.” That usually works by the time I’m done.
But everybody thinks they’re good landlords and I don't understand that. I sit there, listening to their story, specially I have some landlords that have a lot of units, and some of them are good, and some of them are not quite so good, so when you hear the same stories and they have property let’s say at Holden in Worcester, and it’s the same stories, and they tell it never happened, and it’s the same story about how he operates. I don’t think these people have meetings out there, go to Holden, have meetings, and say, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re all going to talk about the landlord like this.”
That’s why I say write everything down. That way, when you get to meet, you say, “Look, I talked to them on July 1st, July 8th, July 15th. They refused to do this. They refused to do that.” The newest thing is these people, I believe, are deliberately not available for [unintelligible 0:10:04]. I believe that wholeheartedly that they’re not available and they’re all very busy, and I don't understand that because I work 7 days a week, and I’m still not that busy. I have a real problem.
They’re just trying to set these landlords up and they just walk into it, and I come into court 4 months later. Their paper wasn’t done. Why not? They didn’t cooperate. Okay, show me your records. Show me the phone call. Show me the text.” “Well, I didn’t write it down. I don’t remember the dates.”
People, we’re operating a business here. we should have our records. If I didn’t have a record—the best classic example is where’s the doctor that didn’t write down records? You could die from something if you didn’t write down records. You have to write records. It’s not that hard to write records. It’s not that hard to make a file.
My big landlords and I represent Wynn Management. It’s probably the biggest landlord in the country, I think they are one of the biggest in any event, any file, anybody has ever said, they don’t talk to anybody without the paperwork. They write it down. It’s easy. They come it with the file. When they started making complaints about things, I open the file, it’s on the desk. “When did you do that?” I open the file. There it is, the conversation. “According to the records, you complained about this. They went over. You weren’t available. Blah, blah, blah.”
It’s amazing how they change to mediation in 2 seconds. They keep track. Sometimes it’s depressing when they come in with a file like this, but sometimes they’ve been there 20, 25 years, and they had a problem and they just make things up. Because they don't have the money, they can’t afford rent, they make up a story.
Records are very easy thing to do when you write it the first day. I mean have the same problem. I try to remember the next day if I didn’t write it down. I don’t remember. Sometimes my client makes, “I forgot that I even talked to him on the phone.” But I got all these paperwork, all these things. Write everything down. You’re running a business and I swear that, I don’t say majority but at least 30 percent of my landlords don’t operate like a business. I am not sure what they do. They get lucky until they run into real problems. I had a guy recently, first eviction in 18 years. It was very expensive for him. I said just do the math. He has about 25 units. I said, “So what, it cost you $200 or $300 a year. It worked that well. Think about that.”
He said, “Yeah, good idea. I’ll see you again in 15 years.” Because he really did a good job, kept track of records, but he didn’t do what he was supposed to do and kind of screwed up. I think there was a couple of questions that Rich wanted me to answer.
Rich: What was the screw up? You didn’t say what it was. You could tell us what the mistake was so we cannot make it.
Henry: You know what, I don’t even remember the screw up, and the reason why I don’t remember the screw up is I’m getting 5 a week with screwups. It’s unbelievable maybe because everybody sends some, I’m not going to say everybody, but I’m the guy that lawyers send cases to for evictions. Even lawyers that do evictions, they just look at it, and say, “I don’t want to deal with this.” Like my sister, retired sister, who couldn’t deal with it anymore because every case that looked like it was hard, lawyers would send in the case because they said, “I’m not going to be able to deal with this woman, man, or whatever. Send it to Laurie Raphaelson. She’ll take care of it.” She took care of it alright, but now she just said, “I’m retiring. See you later. I can’t deal with people anymore.”
Let’s see. First question was, “Who signs the 14-day notice? Can this be an office administrator?”
Well, it’s an interesting question. When the rules changed, I think it was early this year, or last year, whatever it was, I will continue with the rule change for those who don't know it, I am told that there maybe two or three judges in the state that if a 14-day notice is signed by a person who’s not either the trustee or the direct owner, there’s a possibility that the judge will kick out that 14-day notice and you have to start all over again.
It’s my understanding and I was banned a long time ago from Springfield by 20 different lawyers to say that I would lose my mind if I got there because if you think things are bad here, Springfield is a whole different planet. If you’re a tenant, I mean you kind of almost win before you get to courthouse, so I was told I couldn’t deal with it, I shouldn’t deal with it, and I’ve never left Worcester County. It’s sort of like one of those dog fences around the whole county. I refused to do it.
Henry: I refuse to do it. Then they say I can’t go to Boston either because all they do is screw around there and by the time you started, it’s 11 o'clock and everybody is hanging around. I like to be done at 11 o'clock. I used to be done at noon, but eviction business is a lot busier. I don’t think it’s a lot busy, just a little bit busier, but sometimes I’m getting out from the 9 o'clock session. I’m there at 4:30 and even then I’m continue on other cases that will be tried later because there’s not enough time in the day because things are getting much more complicated. But anyways, I got off the subject as usual.
The law of the State of Massachusetts now, the case has to be brought in the name of the owner of the property, the official owner, not you’re this and that, and the other thing. I’m a corporation, I’m going to use my name. It’s going to be in the name of the official owner or the lessor, and the lessor kind of means I’ve got a lot of clients, not a lot of clients, but a few in the business of leasing houses and then leasing them out to somebody else with an option to buy it, and they have contracts to doing it, so they can do that, but no one else.
If you’re Joe Blow Corporation, pay for [unintelligible 0:16:13] Joe Blow Corporation, or the case is going to get dismissed and you’re going to start all over again, the worst thing that’s going to happen. It’s going to happen to somebody one of these days is you go through the whole thing. You own the property, an LLC, and the day before, viewers are going to come, somebody is going to file a motion in court and say, “Hey, Judge, he doesn’t own the property.” They’re going to cancel the case on you, so you could have spent thousands of dollars, 2 months fooling around, and you can’t move them out. you’re going to start from scratch because you have no jurisdiction because you are not the owner. The LLC is the owner.
Only an attorney can sign the paperwork unless it’s in your name or you’re the trustee, only an attorney can sign the court paperwork. Period. You can’t do anything without a lawyer. The 14-day notice, I am told, and I talked to the housing court clerk about it, which is guessing because we haven’t seen a case yet, but there are judges there, and there are not that many, that will kick out that case. If somebody files a motion to dismiss, they end up with a 14-day notice, it’s no good because once it’s signed by the owner and a lawyer can’t sign because a lawyer can sign anything under the rules, not illegal things, but a lawyer can sign anything. Once you get a lawyer, the lawyer becomes you with your permission basically and becomes the LLC with your permission.
Keep in mind that could be a problem and some day the case could get kicked out and you could be the first. One never knows who the first one is going to be, but there’s always somebody out there looking to do something to that effect. Yes?
Rich: Hold on. We’re going to go around with the microphone.
Rich: On that topic, you’re talking about court paperwork that has been signed by the attorney. When you say that, do you mean the summary process, summons, and complaint?
Henry: Yes—no! Anything.
Henry: Anything because what happens is I do work as an LLC whatever, and all of a sudden, they decide that they’re going to do it themselves because they got to file a motion after I’m done with the case. Judge is not going to let you do that either. In other words, if you’re an LLC, you’re a corporation, you’re any of those legal entities, you cannot sign anything in court, period, except maybe the 14-day notice, but I’m not going to guarantee that, and I just want to point out one more thing because of the way the housing court is.
The housing court has judges trained, starting form Judge Martin all these years, and they were pretty consistent over the years. Now, we have visiting judges on occasion, so it’s almost like divorce court where you come in, there’s a visiting judge and they make a decision. You say, “Wow! Where did that come from?” because there’s the Worcester system, there’s the Springfield system, there’s the Boston system and they’re not the same. If you get a visiting judge, you never know for certain.
Male Audience 1: Attorney Ralphaeson.
Male Audience 1: You’re talking about the Hatcher case.
Henry: I don't know names.
Male Audience 1: Yes, the Hatcher case. I actually went south with yesterday’s seat to get more clarification because I’m a property manager. What you’re saying is if it’s a corporation, yes, you are correct. You must have an attorney. They’re not even going to see you if you don't have an attorney as long as if you individually put your name as the lessor or as the property management company, you put your property management company, you can sign the 14-day notice as trustee, manager, whatever of the company. That’s what the SHC told me.
Henry: Unless you come up with a judge that doesn’t agree and he kicks it out and where are you going to go? Are you going to go to appeals court? Are you going to spend a lot of money?
Male Audience 1: No. What I was told also by Judge Sullivan if that happens, best to go directly to him and he will tell that judge they’re wrong.
Henry: That’s good news.
Male Audience 1: Judge Sullivan, I went to the meeting Doug put on about this and I went down and sat with the SHC. Judge Sullivan is going to back this up and that’s the way he explained it, and he said he has told all of his judges see the lessor on the lease or corporation can sign as long as they’re manager or trustee, or the attorney.
Henry: Thank you. That’s great news.
Male Audience 1: That is what Judge Sullivan says he’s going to back up.
Rich: All right. I’m right behind you.
Female Audience 1: So that is for the 14-day notice, but you’re saying the summary process has to be signed by an attorney. Can it be signed by my constable?
Henry: No. That’s to be signed by an attorney, period. If it’s an LLC, a corporation, there’s a few other things it is. I think maybe LLP, or I haven’t seen too many LLPs on it, or it could be a trust that could sign if it’s a single-person trust, but that’s another issue. I would rather be safe than sorry because the last thing you want to do is you get to court and you get kicked out because somebody interpreted some other way and now you’re out. You’ve lost two more months’ rent, so you’re out a few thousand dollars.
Rich: Any other questions about that topic before we move along? Okay.
Henry: The next question here is, “What can landlords do to combat fraud with alleged emotional support pit bulls?”
I printed out something here, and it says here, and this is on the Mass website, a government Mass website. What it says is assistance animals may not be restricted by any housing provider by breed, size, or weight. What that says is they can bring in a Great Dane and life is tough, but it also says, and again very hard to prove this. It says it’s important to know that assistance animals maybe denied or asked to be removed in cases where (1) the animal’s presence would impose undue financial administrative burden—I’m not sure what that means— or fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services, (2) the specific assistance animal in question pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or (3) the specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or limited by another reasonable accommodation.
Well, I guess somebody has got to do something first before you can get the animal out, but that would be the same as any animal even if you allowed animals. Some of them would have to threaten somebody or done something similar to that.
I had a trial over a large service animal which the judge found was not a service animal because it was not trained properly, and we had a restraining order on that, but it still costs a small fortune. It was a major Worcester landlord and we spent, I don't know, five sessions in court, so yes, yes.
It was a visiting judge, a new visiting judge who was very early in her career, and now that know her, she would never do that again, but that’s the problem. There are four new judges and actually I like all the judge that are floating around there. Pretty nice people, pretty good to deal with, but they still come from different places and different areas, and they have different thought process.
Fortunately, depending on how you think, Judge Horan is out there from Worcester. They have been training all of these judges because Judge Sullivan likes the way Worcester is run versus I assume everywhere else in the state.
Again, based on second-hand knowledge, I’ve never been to these places, but Worcester, he was trained by Judge Martin form Day 1. Again, the law clearly is we all know it’s 100 percent tenant, well let’s ay 98 percent tenant because 2 percent are you guys. One judge told me once, “As long as you do your job, you can kick them out.” That was his position, but I don’t remember him having that many people doing their job, which is another problem. I guess as I look at this thing, if they got a pimple, you’re stuck with the pimple. Now the concern is I think some people actually pay for these letters.
Audience: Yes, yes.
Henry: And that’s the problem. The question is where they’re coming from. I mean technically you could file a restraining order in the court and have a full-blown hearing as to whether it’s really a companion animal or whatever, but the question is who’s going to make that decision, what kind of expert testimony you need. I don’t want to think about it. No one has ever asked me to do it yet, and I’ve never seen anybody do it.
But I tell people the same thing. you got to be very careful because if you start down this road and you get involved with a discrimination case against yourself, you better have a lot of money because you can get hit by big money. Those discrimination cases are worth, I think they’re a minimum of $10,000. I don’t do too many of those cases, but if the commission against discrimination decides that you’re pushing these people over pit bulls or any of this stuff, you could get hit for big money. I always tell people the same thing: forget it. let them have the animal, hope the animal does something stupid, then you can pick them for cause.
The other thing is just came into my head, I would suggest that every single landlord have leases, period, and never let those leases expire. Period. Why do I say that? Because if you get a bad tenant, you just don’t renew the lease. I mean whatever claims they may have against you, they got against you, but unless it’s a straight discrimination of some kind, the lease expires and you say, “Hey, I’m not renewing your lease.” You don't have to tell people the reasons why; you don't have to do anything.
But the problem is lately, I got more and more people with more and more problems, and the of course they end up with, not necessarily a nightmare tenant. A landlord that doesn’t know what they’re doing, the tenant kind of, I won’t preying on them, but knowing how the system runs and not knowing how the system runs, I got people out there that call the board of health all the time. Why? Because they’re tenancy at will, and they want to make sure they never get evicted, so you got these 6-month rule against retaliation. You got the potential one-year rule for retaliation, so they make sure that they call not a lot of people, but if they’re happy with living somewhere they make sure that they call the board of health; in that way, they don’t have to worry about getting evicted.
Rich: These people are using Boomerang to send themselves 6 months from now, with a complaint against landlord. We’re going to take another break. If anybody has any questions. Sandra has one. We have one upfront. Sandra was first. I’ll be right back. I love your beanie.
Sandra: Thank you. I’m cold. Henry.
Sandra: If you have nonpayment, 14-day notice. Does it make any difference whether or not you have code violations because it’s not retaliation, as I understand it? It’s one thing if you’re terminating a tenancy and there are code violations. That then rises to the level of retaliation, but my understanding, I’m pretty sure about this, that’s why we go by your expertise that if on day 1, they haven’t paid the rent and each of the 14-day notice and code has been called, it’s not retaliation and you could still proceed, yes?
Henry: Of course, but I’m not sure in Springfield. I’m told in Springfield, the 14-day notice could be considered retaliation, so I don’t let anybody serve a 14-day notice until the code violations are done, so that if the visiting judge decides they’re going to do something different, never ever, ever, ever in my opinion serve a 14-day notice if there are outstanding code violations.
Sandra: But you could—
Henry: You could do it. You can do anything you want, but I’ve made it a policy to never – people call me up. “Well, you know they haven’t paid.” I say, “Yes, call me when you’re done.”
Sandra: Okay, yes, you go in and you clear those violations, and you’re ready to do the 14-day notice and bingo, before you turn around, you have another violation that all of a sudden just mysteriously appeared. This could go on Ad Infinium. It could go on forever, and you would never get in on a 14-day notice for nonpayment.
Henry: Yes. You could get in on a 14-day notice. I mean once you cleared it up and the board of health says it’s done, you serve it the next day. I mean that’s the thing. They call me. If something shows up 2 days later, that’s fine again unless you’re in Springfield. What I’m telling you here it’s Worcester rules.
Sandra: Right, so why they don’t get rid of the judges in Springfield?
Henry: Well, because the judges in Springfield are so liberal it’s frightening, although I’m told that the Quincy judge, it’s a district court now. I don't know they may have a housing court, too. I don't know when they changed the rules this year. Maybe they have a housing court. But Quincy is the most liberal place in Massachusetts, that’s what I’m told.
Male Audience 2: In the same sentence with [unintelligible 0:31:10] process with the service dog, what is the rule now with legal marijuana? If you have a no smoking policy, but now this is for medical purposes, and it’s not going beyond that tenant’s residency and now going into other tenant’s units with kids. What is that rule? How do we?
Henry: Well, we haven’t had a case yet. I think you could go on for a restraining order and see what happens, say, “Judge , they’re smoking.” See, marijuana maybe legal, but cigarette smoking is illegal, too, so you can’t smoke at all, but you got that special—
Male Audience 2: Right, it’s a medical.
Henry: Medical thing.
Male Audience 2: Card to smoke.
Henry: Then you may have a problem, but if they’re disturbing other people, that’s why we have a lease. We don’t mention anything, we do whatever. We don’t renew the lease. In that way, we don't have to worry about discrimination or retaliation or whatever. We just don’t renew the lease, but it’s my understanding that there’s not been a decision about that yet, but I have gone into court. I have got restraining orders for people because of the smell of the marijuana.
Before, it was legal. I just say, “Hey, Judge, they don’t really care.” My guy didn’t care where he smoked. “It’s going. Let him get that—there’s special devices floating around or just smoke outside. Who cares?” But that would be breaching the quiet enjoyment of the residents. That’s the backdoor of one way of doing that. See, the problem is if you’ve got special doctor’s dispensation, you can kind of do almost do anything as far as I can tell.
I mean it’s sort of like these people with the comfort dogs who can walk in anywhere, and do I believe that 90 percent don’t need a comfort dog? Yes, but they got the paperwork, they got some doctor that gives them letters saying they’re depressed this and that, they needed a dog. I almost understand that, but whether they need a dog, I don't know about it, but they’d like a dog.
Male Audience 2: [crosstalk 0:33:20]
Henry: If that answers your question because until there’s a case decision, I’m not got to know exactly other than again they’re disturbing other residents in the building by smoking, that’s an exception, just like this dog thing. If the dog is barking, barking, barking, you go for a restraining order, you evict not because the dog is there, but because they’re noisy and they’re disturbing the other tenants, as long as the other tenants of course are willing to come in and testify. That’s a whole another subject.
Male Audience 2: Should they call the police to come in to make [unintelligible 0:33:51] decision because of course one tenant can say, “I don’t smell anything versus [unintelligible 0:33:58] inform all the tenants. Just call the police.
Henry: No, they’re going to call you and you’re going to have a little chat with them.
Rich: The gentleman’s question was should we call the police?
Rich: Should the residents call the police instead of calling the landlord?
Rich: The answer is no, okay.
Henry: Police got better things to do than a marijuana smell.
Rich: That’s true.
Henry: I grew up in the ‘70s.
Rich: I think the law says that you have to buy the other tenants Cheetos or Oreos.
Rich: None of those like fake store brands things like it can’t be like cheesy pops that actually has Cheetos in it.
Male Audience 3: I just wanted to go back to the 14-day notice and the board of health. If I have a tenant, the second they haven’t paid rent, I serve them a 14-day notice. On the 5th, they call the board of health. Are you saying that that’s going to be looked at as retaliation if after I fixed the violations if there’s any and pursue with the 14-day notice, is that going to be retaliation?
Henry: No, because you got there before, but I also if you got a minute, I would still fix a couple of things because they’re only in the first month. In your scenario, they’re only in the first month, so I would wait. If you come into court and say, “Hey, Judge, I served them a notice. I waited more than 14 days because they had a problem. I fixed the problem. I’d like them to be kicked out because I didn’t know about the problem, he didn’t tell me about the problem, and I was nice enough to wait. I took care of it immediately.” Because part of the problem is, if you served the summons and the work is not done, how hard do you think it’s going to be to get access?
Audience: [inaudible 0:35:34] lawyer.
Henry: Sometimes it’s just common sense. It’s got nothing to do with anything.
Rich: Like you talked about being a good landlord is being on top of things and being prepared, and I haven’t done anything right, but there is one thing I kind of did okay with recently. I had a resident who I got wind up wasn’t going to be able to pay the whole rent, so first thing we did was make sure that we got maintenance guy over her apartment to take care of everything she could possibly have because I knew there’s an eviction notice in her future, so we got in there. I mean like replacing blinds like cheap rope, silly stuff, so that she could sign a statement of condition saying that everything the apartment is absolutely perfect. There’s nowhere to go with that. If she signed on the November 25th that everything the apartment was perfect and December 2nd she gets a 14-day notice, it just makes it that much easier, right?
Henry: Absolutely. The other thing I just—okay.
Rich: Go ahead. I have a long walk over here.
Henry: You’ll survive.
Female Audience 2: Do you have to rewrite a statement of condition each year that you rewrite the lease or is it just when they move in and that’s it?
Henry: Well, not necessarily. Well, let me put it this way. As far as I’m concerned, a minimum of once a year you do a full inspection, and I don’t mean a half-ass inspection, which I hate all the time. “I’ve been there four times, and I took…” “Did you go to the backrooms?” “Well, no I didn’t go to the backrooms.” That’s part of your job.
There’s a reason why Section 8 and all the housing authorities go once a year. Two ways, to protect you and to protect the tenant. They’re protecting both groups, so they don’t get mixed into this. I would not sign a new lease. The first thing I would do because usually when you sign a lease, you’re also going up rent a little bit. Before you do that, I would almost before I send any notice, do a full inspection. I would make it a policy towards the year. I would actually put it on the lease that I can do a full inspection twice a year. If they don’t let you in, you get a restraining order from the court because quite frankly, it’s still important.
I could tell you stories here for the rest of the night about people painting the walls red and black. You know how much work it is to fix that? You have no idea. I got people who there were three properties. Vietnamese group rented three properties, I don't know 3, 4, or 5 years ago in Charlton, Dudley, I don't know about the other. They rented houses for $1,800 to $2,000. Never moved in. They made them into grow houses for marijuana.
I said to the landlords, and there were more than two, “Why didn’t you go to the house?” “Well, the rent is $2,000. It really should be $1,800, and they never complained about anything.” These were professional landlords. These weren’t people who are only brand-new landlords. They’ve been landlords for a while, these two gentlemen.
Now, when the house got retrofitted, I don't know what it cost them to fix it, but making abatement for grow house, running trunk lines in, stealing electricity from the street, from the pole, I don't know whatever, I’m always newbie how do it, but once I heard that, I was really you got to do your inspections. You got to know what’s going on in your building. I always hear there’s 15 code violations. I don't know about any of those things. When was the last time you were in the house?” “I was there 3 years ago. My handyman came a couple of times, but they didn’t call me.”
I tell the story and it still bothers me to this day. A woman calls me up and says, “I got bad mold in my house,” and the guy, the landlord, I don't know if he lived in Maine, New Hampshire, but somewhere up there on a mountain. I mean he lives way up in the hills somewhere. She says, “He only comes down every couple of years. I never see him. I just never see this guy.” Finally, I decided I got this wet problem, and I got leaky roof and he won’t fix it, so I stopped paying rent. Finally, I heard from him. He got a lawyer and I heard from him.”
That house was condemned, and I don’t remember if it was Charlton. I don’t remember what town it was. I should remember because it’s a great story. It was ordered torn down. They tore the house down. Why did they tear the house down? Because he wanted to tear the house down, because he did not respond to her like 3 or 4 years and that water was coming in, coming in, coming in until finally the black mold became a point they couldn’t do anything and the town ordered it shut down. Goodbye.
He went back to the mountain, he didn’t give a crap. She was homeless, never got any money for what she was entitled to thousands, but he was living in another state, gone. Again, I don't understand these dramatic examples.
Rich: So, is that an example of a good landlord or not a good landlord?
Henry: Well, since he lost the total investment, I guess…
Rich: Yes, insurance doesn’t cover that.
Henry: Nothing covers that.
Male Audience 4: I’m hearing from you that you’re a strong advocate of yearly contract. Is that correct as opposed to a tenancy at will?
Henry: Well, I am now because I’m finding it harder and harder especially because the way this economy is and the way as Rich talked before, there are no apartments available, so people hold on to these apartments. There used to be a time landlords were pissed off with tenants. His fault because he didn’t fix the property, but he would give them some money get them to leave.
Now, especially with legal services in there, people are not giving up on their apartment, and of course if landlords are pissed off with the tenants and quite frankly half the time, more than half the time, it’s their fault because they’re not running it like a business. If you got the lease, then when the lease expires, you’re just going to say, “I’m not renewing the lease,” so you don't have to worry about all these issues.
Tenant at will, getting rid of the tenant at will with household problems or a tenant that’s a problem is very difficult if they’re not going to voluntarily leave, and again at times when there’s unlimited apartments open, you offer them $2,000 and say go, they’ll take it because they know there’s apartments everywhere. Late ‘80s, I mean every decade, there’s a time where the real estate market is down the sewer and every decade, there’s a time where it’s flying up.
The deep is coming, the only question is when is it coming. This is as good as I have seen it since ‘82-’86 was the best I have ever saw. In ’86, I could take my example, I got an appraiser. I said to my mother, she was moving to Florida. In March 1986, whatever the appraisal the full value, I’ll pay. They appraised it; in September I closed, it went up 41 percent in 6 months. Those were the good old days. That was a different world.
But again if you have a lease, you have the protection that you just don't have to renew it. I mean you don't have the protection for housing for Section 8 and those things. Those leases could go on forever. Getting rid of Section 8, that’s a whole another story, which we’ll leave for another day.
But that’s why this year is the worst year for people who agreed to leave, and I’ve got landlords who don't have the personality, the thought process to deal with tenants. It’s not that hard if you do your job right; it really isn’t, but they take these things personally, but if you don’t do your job, I can’t help you. It’s always, “Why can’t you help me? You’re supposed to be aggressive. You’re supposed to be this.” I say, “Hey, if you don’t do your job, I’m not a miracle worker. You can’t always throw money at the problem. I know if I give them $50,000, they’ll leave. It’s only a question of how much you give them.” But if you have a lease, you just don’t renew the lease.
Again, there are exceptions to that rule, but that covers 95 percent of the problems you might have. You just say, “I’m not renewing the lease.”
Male Audience 4: What happens if you have the tenancy at will, which I do with all of my tenants? How do I flip that to a yearly contract?
Henry: Well, you can give them a 30-day notice to vacate and say that you can stay if you sign this lease and you hope the lease and whatever rules you want write on there and you have the sheriff or the constable deliver the whole thing, and 9 out of 10 times, if you’re not raising their rent, they’ll probably say, “Yes good to have a one-year lease.” But the other 1 out of 10, you may have a problem.
Rich: Yes, so maybe if I have to lower the person’s rent $10 to get them onboard. What does it look like, Henry, at the end of the lease, so the lease ends on November 30th, December 1st they’re at tenant at sufferance. How does that process work if they’re resistant to moving out at the end of their contract?
Henry: You go straight to court, file a summary process summons, and you set the [unintelligible 0:44:55].
Rich: Do I serve 14-day notice? Do I serve a 30-day notice?
Rich: No, I know what you said but for the people who are new in the room, you got to skip a step that you would normally have to follow. You go straight to the summary process.
Henry: You’re talking about at the end of the lease?
Rich: At the end of the lease.
Henry: When the lease expires, you just send them a letter, and you give them some notice. I got some people, real wise guys. Three days before, they say, “I’m not renewing your lease.” What’s going to happen with that?
Rich: Well, that’s not reasonable because that doesn’t give people enough time to make other arrangements.
Henry: But that’s the law. You don't have to give any notice. Technically, the lease expires on the 30th. I don't have to tell you anything on December 1st. I’ll just give you a summons to come to court.
Rich: What would a court consider to be a reasonable amount of time? Sixty days? Thirty days?
Henry: I would consider 45 days to be reasonable, in my world. You could give them more, but again you got to be careful about giving them too much if the reason you’re doing it is because they bother you with code violations or whatever, you may not want to give them 4 or 5 month-notice or give a notice the week after you finish the thing. I’m not going to renew your lease because that could be surmised as retaliation.
Rich: Sure, and if [unintelligible 0:46:15] are too high to remember that you told them 3 months ago they’re moving out, it enters a certain point where they forgot.
Henry: Everything in writing by mail. Anything important should be letter form. This text crap, this email stuff, especially when the people don’t respond to it, so you never can be 100 percent certain they get it. Again, anything that’s important when you’re a landlord regular mail. You want to do email, too, sure, do whatever you want, but I get to court all the time, “ I never got that text.” I never got the email. How do I prove they have got the text or email. Unless they respond to it, then I can prove; other than that, it could be anywhere in cyberspace.
Rich: That’s why you have to incentivize them in your emails to reply, “Hey, I just want to make sure I can expedite the return of your security deposit, so make sure to return this thing. Let me know that you’ve read through this disposition of it and everything.” Yes, put something in there like that.
Female Audience 3: I guess I’m a little thick tonight, I’m not getting this. If I have a tenancy at will and I give my tenants 30 days’ notice per our agreement and they’re difficult, how am I less protected than the lease expires and they’re difficult?
Male Audience 5: What’s the difference?
Henry: Because you got the counterclaims. On either way of these problems, you’re going to get counterclaims. However, the judge can’t give them possession on a lease; in other words—
Female Audience 3: But they’re already there.
Henry: No, no. I’m talking about possession after the fact. The judge could say okay. Let’s say you did something wrong and the judge gives them $100. Under tenant at will, if he gets $100, you don’t get possession of his apartment. They start their tenancy all over again. ON a lease, they get the $100, and they have to leave on whatever date the judge gives them to leave. That’s the difference. With a lease, they have to go eventually; with a tenant at will, they don't have to go if you’ve done something wrong.
Rich: Because a tenant at will keeps going forever.
Henry: Tenant at will goes on forever, and under the Mass General Law, I don't know, it’s either 2395 or one of those statutes anyways, if they win any money on a counterclaim, whether it be security deposit, retaliation, whatever the case maybe, they got to keep the tenancy again unless they owe a lot of money, they would have time to pay it. In other words, if they owe $2,000 and the judge says you have to pay $1,000 to them, as long as they pay the $1,000, they get to stay.
Under a lease, they don’t get to stay because the lease expired. The lease has a set day where it ends; only the judge can determine the final set day but the judge has to determine a final set day unless they find discrimination or retaliation. On a tenant at will, the judge cannot set a date of vacate if you’ve violated the Security Deposit Statute, the Breach of Quiet Enjoyment Statute, 93A Statute, 18618 Statute, all the statutes with all these rules, if you violate them, you can’t get a tenant at will out of the property.
On a lease, you can get half the money, but the judge has to give a final date that they have to leave. That’s the difference. A lease is for a set period of time; it’s got ends; a tenant at will, goes on forever if unless the landlord is clean and has no issues, but again—
Male Audience 6: Isn’t that a global set time, 30 days?
Henry: No, no it’s not because under the statutes, you give a 30-day notice to somebody, if they’re a regular person, they can get up to 6 months.
Male Audience 6: Or two months?
Henry: No. A tenant at will, even if you do everything right, the judge can give them up to 6 months and anybody that’s disabled or old—I’m defined as old. In my next life, I maybe old but I’m not old. But in any event I can get up to a year because I’m 65, and that’s the difference. Under a lease, you can’t get that kind of time.
Jim: so basically—
Male Audience 6: What if they don’t want to leave? I don’t want them to be—
Rich: We have a question over here. I’m come up to you with the microphone. Just a minute.
Male Audience 6: Sorry, sorry.
Jim: Really the difference is the end of the lease because if I’m 2 months into a brand-new lease and I’ve got 10 months left to go and I need to get this person out because of so many things going wrong, the battle is going to be the same as a 30-day at that point. Really what you’re addressing is the completion of the lease because there’s no resolve to it.
But from what I understand and I maybe wrong, if they resolve the problem while in a lease, they can still have their tenancy through the end. If they’re in arrears in the rent and they paid it up and they continue. The next month if they’re in arrears and we take them through the process and they paid up, we can continue. Therefore, it seems rather the same as a 30-day at that point. It’s only at the termination, at the completion of the lease that you’re addressing. Is that correct?
Henry: Yes, but if you got a professional tenant on a tenant at will, they can keep it going for a long time. somebody wants to pay me, I can put you through hell as a lawyer. I mean I really could if I wanted to. I’m not an operator like that, but a lot of people do specially in the other two places.
Henry: Not as much here as in the other two places, but yes, if you want certainty to know that this tenant is bad but not too bad, you give them a one-year lease.
Rich: In addition to that, it’s the habitual nonpayment that you’re talking about, Jim. I think that’s pretty much the same. They got to pass the first time every 12 months, but that second time, you can get them out of there whether it’s a lease or a tenant at will. Isn’t that true?
Henry: No. The statute allows you until the Monday before the trial date to pay all the money, but again your lease should also have an attorney’s fees clause in there. They won’t be like two offers. They keep coming back to court and other than your little time, they’re not going to be wanting to be whacked for hundreds of dollars in attorney’s fees.
Male Audience 6: My question is, if you have a yearly lease and the lease expires December 31st and the tenant says, “I am not leaving, I like it here, and I want to stay here,” what is the recourse that the landlord has if the tenant wants to stay, and I have a second question after you answer that.
Henry: Worcester Housing Court is the answer for that one.
Male Audience 6: Sorry. I didn’t hear that one.
Henry: Worcester Housing Court.
Male Audience 6: You go to court and you go through the whole 2 or 3 months of eviction. Is that what you’re saying?
Henry: Well not necessarily. You don't have to give another notice. It won’t be another 2 or 3 months. You go straight to court. You set up a court date because again you have given them the notice on November 15th saying, ‘Please be advised, I’m not renewing your lease.” Then come January 2nd, you serve them a summons to be in court on same month, in January.
Male Audience 6: Okay, so now you go to court and the court says, you have to leave on this date. Is that correct?
Henry: That’s correct.
Male Audience 6: And they don’t leave. Are you responsible for the moving charges to get them out of there and storing their furniture and stuff?
Henry: Indirectly, you’re responsible for paying the money upfront. You can chase them but good luck with that. I mean yes, you pay the deposit. You pay the money, they take them away. You can go file the small claims in housing court and get a judgement against them, assuming you can find them or anything else, but yes, you’re the landlord. You’re responsible for everything.
But again when you get into court, you make another deal. You give them some time. You got them where you want; you got to them out of there, all right. You say, “Okay, I’ll give you three months. You pay some money.” You make the deal because I tell people all the time, “Ninety percent of people, I can get them out immediately. However, you’re going to pay $2,000 or $3,000 to move them. Do you want to pay that?”
I get clients that don’t care about money, not a lot but some don’t care. I want them out. See you later. They take the $3,000.” But if you don’t want to spend the money, you’re in court the end of January, you give them until the end of April or you give them until the end of the school year. I mean this tenant is just bothering everybody.
I mean sometimes you get a tenant you don’t like. You don’t want them in your building and you don’t really have a great reason. You just don’t want them, but at least, you just give them some extra time, so you don't have to pay the $2,000 or $3,000. That’s all, if you care about money.
Rich: If you care about money. All right, we have like 2 minutes left. Does anybody else have a question for Attorney Ralphaeson?
Henry: Forget the questions. I want to go over these two. I’ll give them 1 minute for a couple of things.
Rich: Go for it.
Henry: When you have a flood or something in your house, you’re a landlord. You can’t be waiting for your insurance company for months and months. I’ve had 5 cases this year. Every landlord is going to get whacked. “Well, the insurance company didn’t move fast enough. It took them too long. These people living with water all over the place, I didn’t get the money, or whatever.” Fix it; if they won’t do it, go to court, get a restraining order against the insurance company. I don’t care what you do. Fix it, the problem or you’re going to get whacked for more money.
Security deposits, before you decide to keep a security deposit you better read the statute, make sure you get everything 100 percent; if you didn’t and they file a small claim on you, it’s triple damages plus attorney’s fees, automatic loss, so unless you’ve done everything you’re supposed to, and I have landlords that have thousands of properties in this country and one this morning got whacked for triple damages. “Well, I thought somebody said this.” Make sure it’ s done right.
You get a last month’s rent security deposit, don’t be using it during the tenancy because you know at the end, they’re going to fail. There’s a reason why it’s last month’s rent security deposit. Do not use it unless you have a court order and you have agreed to let them out of the property.
Water bills, if you’re a landlord and charging tenants for water, the odds are 95 percent you’re doing it illegally. Mass General Law Chapter 186 Section 22 tells you what the rules are. I just got a letter from a company in Boston, who is now trying to pick a business. They’re going to testify in trials if I wanted them. I’m not going to do it and they’re saying they can get a lot of money. They’ll do a commissions’ salesman, and you can get big buildings that charge water illegally and you can come after all these landlords and you do the math and say, “You know, you probably get $100,000, $200,000. Unbelievable.” Don’t be charging water to anybody unless you read the statute and you got special paperwork from whatever city or town that’s required. It’s a license. You need to have paperwork, and that’s what I got for my [unintelligible 0:58:18].
Rich: All right. Let’s hear it for—