Getting rid of semi-professional tenant in Massachusetts

31 Replies

A little over a year ago I bought a triplex in Chelsea with 2 tenants in place. I've poured a lot of money into repairs because previous landlord didn't take care of anything, then I put in a 3rd tenant. I've been lucky enough to form a very good relationship with one of the previous tenants and the new tenant, and unlucky enough to inherit a professional tenant in the making from previous landlord. All tenants are section 8. The problem tenant's lease expired a few years ago and she's now in the month-to-month phase. The problem is... we're in mASSachusetts.

I served the problem tenant with a 30-day notice to quit for:

- failing to pay a portion of her rent

- having a large, loud dog in the unit illegally

- noise and disturbance to other tenants

- excessive wear and tear (explained below)

Prior to this notice multiple issues transpired throughout the year:

- She kept complaining about things breaking in her unit like clockwork every 2 weeks or so (at first I thought it was due to deferred repairs by previous landlord)

- After I increased the rent (and her portion went up slightly), she called about an "emergency" (broken toilet), I immediately asked for a photo to figure out whom to send, the problem was that "someone" in her unit ripped off the lid. I bought a new seat in Home Depot for $10 and replaced it. It was a minor item, but the way it transpired felt very much like revenge for the rent increase.

- Over the next few months things continued breaking in her unit, luckily they were cheap things and the other two tenants felt bad and volunteered to help with the repairs as long as I buy the materials (I'm really lucky to have gotten 2 other tenants who care about the property's well-being).

- The other two tenants also mentioned to me that she routinely starts noisy fights with her wife/kids as late as 3 am, and I've heard her being obnoxiously loud a few times when I visited during the day. She did have the old neighbors call the cops on her, but not the current tenants who feel bad doing so.

- She's been late on a portion of her rent check for almost a year now (there is a $200 balance she keeps forgetting to pay, and recently she failed to pay the rest, currently the amount is $600)

- In December she clogged her toilet and I had to call a sewage company for $300 to fix it (the lease I inherited from previous landlord says nothing of her responsibility with unclogging things so I had no power to shift the expense to her)

- In February, "someone" in her unit dislodged the toilet (on Friday) and it started leaking even after my handyman fixed it (same day). I called my plumber but he took a few days to come because it was the weekend and he was out of town (the toilet was still usable but a puddle would form around it every day). She was furious and made sure to yell at everyone who was remotely involved (me, the handyman, other tenants, and the contractor who eventually replaced it). The contractor took apart the wall, replaced the toilet with a brand new one, the pipe leading up to it and the wax ring. The contractor later told me that the only reason he works on her unit is out of respect for me and he dreads coming to do her repairs every single time.

- Two weeks later she complains that her toilet is leaking again (she really hates toilets apparently), after my handyman (not the contractor) inspected it, he said that she mistook condensation for a leak. This (combined with unpaid rent) was the last straw, and I served her with a 30-day notice to quit.

- 3 weeks later I got a message from 1st floor tenant about water leaking from the ceiling in his bathroom. After we investigated (2nd floor tenant wasn't home), we realized that the problem originated from 3rd floor (the problem tenant). I had the tenant shut off the water to entire building immediately, and after talking to her, she again claimed it was the toilet. I was later told that circuit breakers kept shutting off for the entire day after that. First floor tenant also mentioned that he heard her yelling at other members of her family. At the time I didn't think much of it.

- Next day I had my handyman investigate everything in her bathroom and find no leaks or problems. I also called her and had a chat with her, explaining that me trying to get her out is not a personal issue, but a combination of wanting to take better care of the unit and keep the other two tenants happy. She seemed to be understanding.

- By the end of 30-day notice to quit, she still had no new residence lined up, I had section 8 housing talk to her (who seem to also sympathize with me but tell me their hands are tied for the most part) and talked to her myself. We agreed to a 1-month extension on the condition that she pays outstanding balance (she hasn't) and also that she'd be liable for eviction fees should that occur (the deadline is end of April).

- Shortly after that agreement (which btw, I have NOT signed, but she has - because she failed to be home at the time we agreed to meet and I and I left it in her mailbox - also saying it's due by April 1, a deadline she failed to meet (she signed it on the 5th) and also part of the requirement was her paying the outstanding balance, so my attorney says the agreement is void unless I want to honor it) I got my water bill... it was about $2100 for that month, previous bills have been barely over $300 for all 3 units.

- I called the city and they sent me an itemized usage by day, the correlation between between the above events that transpired and usage is too much of a coincidence to dismiss. Despite the leaking toilet that she broke, the usage did NOT go up much for those few days. The day after she had a fight with my contractor who replaced the toilet, the usage doubled (I didn't even talk to her that time). Two weeks later, after she said it was leaking again and the handyman looked at it, the usage more than doubled again (it became 5 times what the average was, my guess is that she had a fight with the handyman as well). A little more than a week later the usage went back to normal (this happens to coincide with the time when the other two tenants told me she left for the weekend to visit her sister). On Monday right after that the usage again skyrocketed (this is when I served her with 30-day notice), 11 days later she flooded the entire house, which is when she yelled at her family members. Initially I thought one of her kids left the sink on and stopper closed, now I'm thinking that this is the first time they ****ed up their sabotage and had the water flood the neighbors below rather than skyrocket my water bill (so she was mad about the fact that her family spoiled her sabotage rather than at the fact that they damaged the property). 2nd floor tenant also mentioned that she heard the water running daily when the 3rd floor tenants would leave the house but didn't think much of it (I wish she told me this earlier).

- I've analyzed a few options, sub-metering is a no-go because Massachusetts laws are flawed and don't allow it until a new tenant moves in, by which time I'll probably be bankrupt (because eviction can take up to 2 years and is very tenant-friendly, at the same time this tenant can keep wasting $2k+ worth of water every month). Continuing with eviction is also dangerous as the tenant may just leave water running 24/7. This normally wouldn't be too big of a problem if the state didn't suck with their eviction timelines, which can take up to 2 years.

- After talking to my eviction attorney, she also did some research and noticed that this tenant was already evicted out of her last residence (so the previous landlord didn't do his homework, or didn't care), I've also looked at her eviction case myself and it looks like she's not yet organized or experienced enough to be a professional tenant, but she's definitely getting there.

- The other two tenants really appreciate everything I have done and are willing to help out in whichever way they can (whether it is acting as a witness in court or preventing her from doing more harm).

I understand that in Massachusetts I can do very little as a landlord against being abused this way, but if there is anything myself or my other tenants can do I'd love to know. In their own words, they're willing to accidentally block the water flow. Also, is this something I can get the police involved in?

My only options so far seem to be:

- Sue the tenant in small claims court and hope she will be too scared to do further damage (unlikely).

- Suck it up and face tens of thousands in damages at the end.

- Sue the city/state for such one-sided laws and hope something comes out of it (aside from me losing even more money).

- Bribe the tenant in some way and forget about the $2k+ damage they already caused (actually more like 3k, since the newly renovated 2nd floor bathroom is starting to get moldy from the flood she caused).

I cant even wrap my mind around this.

My thoughts:

-Section 8 has rules for them to get the voucher.  I do not know if they are federal, state, or local rules.  Check into that and see if she is violating them.  Her violation of a federal housing law may override or at least assist a case for eviction.

http://www.mass.gov/courts/selfhelp/housing/evicti...

"3. Do I need to state the reason I want to evict my tenant in the notice to quit and summary process summons and complaint?

It depends on why you want to evict your tenant. If the reason for the eviction is a violation of a lease term or nonpayment of rent, this reason must be stated in the notice to quit. If the tenant is a tenant-at-will, or if the lease has expired, no reason other than expiration of the notice to quit or of the lease is required. Special rules apply to mobile home parks, residential hotels and rooming houses, dormitories and community residences, residential superintendents, public housing, and other government subsidized leasing arrangements. In any case, the reason for eviction cannot be an illegal one."

Read the laws carefully, and find your way out.  It wont be pretty.

Bribe her with large sums of money (you're gonna pay it one way or the other) to get out...$2500-$5000.  hire a moving company to pack up and move her sh!t. 

start the eviction process...follow the state published landlord/tenant law eviction process to a T.

stop all communication with her, but respond to her if she reaches out.  be nice.  fix things she bitches about.  but don't initiate conversation with her.

a few buddies, black ski masks and baseball bats...should take care of the problem.  (last resort, I'm kidding, don't do that! ;) wink)

file complaints with section 8, your goal is for her to lose her voucher.  everyone has a boss...keep pushing the issue.  this would be my number one goal!!!

good luck.

@Alex T. - I'm so very, very sorry.  I honestly don't know how Mass gets anyone to invest in properties with laws like that.  I wish I had advise or a magic wand for you.  Hope some other Massachusetts investor can point you in the right direction!

Keep us posted!

Hire a lawyer get her out she is in arrears on the rent...Tell other tenants to call police on disturbances every time. if they are afraid of retaliation have a neighbor do it. What is she doing that violates section 8? Formally notify the caseworker of these violations. Is there any way to put a automatic shutoff on her water if demand is Excessive? I would see if there is so if there is a surge in use you can immediately check for leaks. I have a feeling this is use or retaliation on you but since you have sevetal leaks from her appartment you need to do something to minimize any damage. Bill damage real time.

@Alex T. Who's the eviction Lawyer you hired, if the Tenant is still there?

Cash for keys 1 month rental amount usually works. Otherwise I agree go after her voucher and tell her you're doing so to prevent any future landlords from dealing with her. Lastly don't take any partial rent.

I feel so bad for you, this is a terrible situation to be in. The only thing I can consider is approaching the situation similarly to what @Jeff Sprunger said. To elaborate a little further, do not speak to anyone with section 8 unless they are true authorities in the organization. Find a supervisor and then ask for HIS boss. This isn't pretty but the only angle that I can see is using section 8 assist in getting rid of her. Problem I see is that if section 8 stops her voucher, where does that put her and you? She sounds like the type of person to not have any money for rent, but refuse to leave. Authorities at that point if her lease is up? You did mention she was month to month, can she be forced to leave in May? I'm not entirely sure what is or is not possible in Massachusetts as a landlord. Good luck! Please post an update when you get one. I'm sure whatever you do can be helpful to someone else who unfortunately has to deal with a similar situation in the future.

First you dropped the ball in not serving the eviction notice immediately when she did not vacate at the 30 day notice. This is very common with hobby landlords and will always end up costing them more money.

You now should immediately begin the eviction process and take her to court for the water overages which are easy to prove. You are not going to get through this cost effectively but will be farther ahead by following the proper process as opposed to caving to extortion. Your lack of professionalism will be costly but in the future you will know better.

Evict and take her to court for all costs. Good luck.  

IN the future do not rent to section 8 if you want to hold tenants responsible. Section 8 could care less as they believe they are untouchable. Your criteria for screening should be tenants that can afford to pay the rent and that you can collect from when they don't.  

The first thing that strikes me is how dis-empowered you feel. The second thing that strikes me is that you have been dealing with this tenant for so long and you never transitioned her onto your rental agreement, so you are trying to enforce terms the previous landlord put into place. The third thing that strikes me is how manipulative and vicious this tenant is. I would not be surprised if there are cognitive and/or mental health issues underlying her actions.

Continue to work with your attorney and the local housing authority that administers the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Get involved with the landlord associations in Massachusetts to lobby for more support for the rental housing industry and for landlords. Make sure your attorney is one of the best, specifically regarding landlord-tenant law and evictions. Escalate your concerns to a higher administrative level at the Newton Housing Authority. They may be able to do more than you've been told.

You don't have to go this alone. Landlords have rights, even in Massachusetts, and tenants can be held accountable for their actions. This could have happened whether the tenant was on Section 8 or not. 

Your goal at this juncture is to get her out as soon as possible and to stop the hemorrhage of your resources, money, time and sanity. Document everything well and stay in compliance with the law.

This tenant will never catch up on what she owes to you and she will have a tough time finding another place to land. The longer she stays, the more loss you'll incur. The harder you push, the harder she'll dig in and retaliate. What would it take to get her out?  Perhaps "cash for keys" plus a place for her to go and help with moving. 

Just like water, tenants are more likely to follow the path of least resistance.  So, make it easier for her to move than to stay. Continue with the eviction process, but also negotiate a move-out plan to get her out sooner.  Don't heap more on her at this point, as it will destabilize her even more. Keep your message to her brief, clear and to the point. (Take a listen to BP podcast #83 where I share some of our strategies.)

Continue to work with her case manager at the housing authority to find more suitable housing for her. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program does not seem to be a good fit for her, but other public housing might be an option they could pursue with her. See if they or a social service agency can help with the logistics of her relocation.

-------

"The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) is a federal program funded by the Office for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assist low-income families and individuals to live in decent, safe and sanitary units." .... It is not a good fit for irresponsible renters.

Your story as shown is your evidence!!  Copy/Paste it into a Notepad document and save on your computer.  Now create a cover letter and mail it to the local Housing Authority clearly identifying your tenant and the unit address.  Inform the H.A. you are filing an Eviction case on this person.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GET HER VOUCHER REVOKED!!!  This will only get YOU into trouble.

Find and follow the Unlawful Detainer case rules OR immediately find and engage a local eviction company.

There's nothing to be gained by procrastinating or attempting to "heal the relationship" - - it only gets worse :sigh:

@Mike Hurney I'm working with Jordana Greenman, she was recommended by a good friend of mine as an attorney that understands the system well. She also warned me the eviction could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 years.

The thing is, I realize that if I go to court, I'll win the case. Problem is the additional damage that happens before the court date. I don't want this tenant running my water (and flooding other tenants) for 2 years while the court system drags its feet. And sure, this tenant will lose her voucher, but I'll lose a lot more too. I am actually considering cash for keys as an option.

@Colleen F. I actually found a non-invasive device for automatic water shut off that shuts off after 2 hours and resets itself if you turn off the water for 20 seconds. It seemed perfect for my use case (and also would do no harm to a tenant using the system as intended) but the city said that I'm not allowed to use it because it tampers with the water supply. Again, yet another Massachusetts law that seems to be out of touch with reality.

I wonder if such abuse of water is enough grounds to call the cops on her? I may have a precedent since she already flooded the place once so clearly she's putting other tenants in danger.

@Melvin Noriega she technically has no rights to be in the unit at all anymore aside from the ones provided by the state of Massachusetts to prevent "unfair landlord practices". She should have already left, I can tell her she has to leave in May and she will probably ignore it again. In which case my option is to start the eviction process (I can technically start it today) and watch her retaliate for a few months while the legal system takes its time. I wish the person who came up with MA laws could experience this first hand to understand what they've done.

Similarly, I can speak with Section 8 director, get her out of the program, and what then? I'll still have her in my unit except now I won't be receiving 70% of the rent from the government, no other landlord will take her because she's unable to pay, and she got even less to lose.

@Alex T.  Sounds like you need a BP HUG,,, OMG what a nightmare, from what you stated she's behind on rent.

I'd tell her your filing for eviction on Monday unless she agrees to vacates by Noon on Monday, file for eviction for , failing to vacate after proper notice, unpaid rent, lease violation of pet, noise, misuse of utility water waste. She will get the boxes and move out.. she doesn't want to lose her Sec 8 and the only way is to vacate before you file or you "stay" the filing before court orders her out. So your in the drivers seat now if what you stated is correct.. 

With just that she'll have to go. 

I'd sent Section 8 portion for April Back if you got it,

I've dealt a lot with section 8 tenants some good, but the bad ones made it all hectic. 

I believe you may be required to notify Sec 8 or give them a copy of the filing paperwork once you have filed,  that shows she failed to vacate per your non-renewal notice or quit notice and has unpaid balance of rent , and lease violations.

But I'd get the paperwork for court filled out and Post a copy on her door.

Sounds like you've learned your lesson. now put it in action.

We would file on Sec 8 tenants if their portion unpaid ever reached $200.00 or more and this was in a 326 unit building,, so we had lots of filings every month ,, in fact I was limited to 20 of the worst or larger balance ones to go after first as our budget for court cost was held to that number a month.. 

Just because the law takes a long time doesn't mean you shouldn't start. It sounds like you might have started since you've talked to a lawyer. If not, please get started!

At the same time, offer cash for keys! It needs to be in writing! She gets nothing until she hands you the keys. She agrees in writing that anything she leaves behind is considered trash.

Why would you be hesitant to get this woman out of the section 8 program at the chance of you losing your 70% payment? That sounds ridiculous. 

You need to actively work on getting this woman out regardless if you like the timeline or like the fact that you're out of money or even regardless of the fact she may continue to damage your unit. 

Get your property back. And then consider a PM for the future since MA clearly has tough laws and you need someone working for you that knows the laws and acts FAST.

@Alex T. ,

Im sorry about your situation bro . I was n your shoes 6 month ago n Lynn.

I would Take her to court immediately , and try to dissolve your case   n mediation. 

 As you know Mass is really tenant friendly which sucks.

I believe there are 2 adults in this unit ? Tell section 8 

Originally posted by @Nicole W.:

Why would you be hesitant to get this woman out of the section 8 program at the chance of you losing your 70% payment? That sounds ridiculous. 

...

Get your property back. And then consider a PM for the future since MA clearly has tough laws and you need someone working for you that knows the laws and acts FAST.

Because with them paying that 70% portion (around $1400) I'm actually able to soften the blow and survive this. Without that $1400/mo, I'm losing even more. To me continuing to receive this $1400/mo doesn't sound ridiculous at all.

As far as PM, I don't see how that would reduce problems in this case. I'd still be paying for it, I'd just find out about these issues later. Like other investors on these forums, my strategy is to screen tenants on the way in rather than dealing with this on the way out, and I think I have done a good job with the other tenant who moved in. This tenant, unfortunately, came with the property.

@Alex T.

Are you sure about the MTM?  I've dealt with Sec8 and thought that they go yearly with annual inspection.  Do you have the actual lease? If not, contact her Sec8 handler and request a copy.

Also, at the same time, ask the handler what documentation she/Sec 8 requires from you to formally stop the lease at the next turn.  I do know that you had to give at least 60 days, so I typically give it to both the tenant and the handler 75 days out. You are requesting this termination and NOT filing a complaint to kill their Sec8 participation. I hope you know NOT to tell Sec8 handlers that its because you do not want to rent to Sec8 !  Do tell them that you do not wish to extend MTM... tenant must leave the premises.

Also, inform Sec8 that the tenant has not paid the rent

Forget about touching the water supply in anyway... this will get you in a heap of trouble.  In fact, forget about mentioning the amount used or the cost associated with it to anyone, because you can not prove it was them (triple decker).  The lovely courts or Sec8 will instead say the high water usage is not usage but in fact proof their was a leak....trust me they will.

Stick with they have not paid the rent and you are terminating for that.  The more info you give them the more ammo they will have.

Last, if you do decide to go with keys for cash, make sure its after they move out.  Do not give it to them so they can use it as last/sec dep at the new place... because they won't and your out cold hard cash.

A PM would potentially reduce the problems with this kind of tenant because--if they're a good PM--they would not let time pass and this tenant continue to damage the place without taking action. Taking action is the key. But you're right, you inherited this one...so I highly suggest you do hire someone to get rid of her. You even mention yourself in your profile that landlording is not your strong point. A PM can be your best friend.

Being that you inherited this horrible tenant, it sounds to me as if she has been testing her boundaries with you and she is seeing that she can take it pretty far.

She is costing you several hundred dollars at least so far. She owes you rental money.

You need to file for eviction. You've written quite the lengthy post about this tenant's behavior, damage, and lack of payments, but then you essentially say that you're not sure you want to take serious action against her because you don't want to lose her gov't money. You'll need to choose then. Deal with her craziness, further damage, constantly contacting you, yelling at you and everyone else, not paying her portion of rent, etc OR get her out and find a good tenant who pays you ALL of the rent money and does not cause all this drama. Oh, and not to mention all the stress being gone.

It does sound a bit ridiculous to want to continue dealing with this for $1400/ month when she's constantly causing damage and running water on purpose. What's next? She might decide to push the boundaries even further. 

Cut any conversations you're having with her. Get serious about the process of eviction. She knows you're taking her abuse and will only get worse.

@Rich N. I have the actual lease, I specifically requested all leases at the time of purchase. The inspection was 2 days ago for 2 of the units, I passed both. In fact, the eviction attorney said that if I didn't pass, it could hurt my eviction case - so this worked out well (because usually they fail you for minor stuff, like tenant taking the batteries out of a smoke alarm).

I am working with the handler and officially nothing else is required of me aside from tenant honoring my notice to quit and moving out. Luckily, housing is willing to pay while the tenant is still on premises even if the lease is over. As far as notice to quit, I had my attorney put it together to make sure I don't screw it up, so the language and explanation is in compliance with MA laws, it's a "for a cause" notice to quit + eviction

@Nicole W. Thanks, also it's not so much that I'm dragging my feet, it's MA. I'm not allowed to serve the eviction until the 30-day notice expires, it expired a few days ago and my initial plan was to give the tenant 1-month written extension, which was before I realized the water bill situation. I also didn't want her to make an argument that I gave her unreasonably short amount of time to move.

If you can't put a monitoring valve on the water supply can you put a water moisture alarms somewhere below her?   You need to in some way protect yourself from what seems to be her intentional water damage.   Does a visual on your water meter give you any information?   If mine is spinning continuously it indicates a leak.  Living in MA, I agree stupid MA laws.. sounded like you had the perfect solution for that part of the issue.  Good luck.

@Rich N.

Sometimes it's good to keep it simple and to the point. The more you put on the eviction they will drag you through the mud line by line

Man I am so glad I do not invest in residential anymore.

Maybe in the future in landlord friendly states have a reserve credit from the seller at closing for 15k or 20k to keep in place for situations like this.

Plan on when you inherit tenants going in they might be a problem. 

GA you can get people out usually in under 2 months.  

The section 8 isn't worth it if the tenant causes the others to want to leave and water trickling down starts getting mold into the walls and other issues.

@Joel Owens - The worst thing is that in MA, Sec8 is a protected class that you cannot just say NO.

@Thomas Hickey - ?? Isn't that what I conveyed? To stick with the non payment of rent and not to supply anymore ammo ?

@Rich N.

Yes I was agreeing with you, forgot to add "I agree"

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here