Legal Questions: Need to evict our roommate in Massachusetts

8 Replies

My Fiance and I own a single family home and rent two upstairs bedrooms out to two roommate/tenants on month-to-month leases.  We did not collect security deposits from either tenant, and instead wrote up explicit "month-to-month" tenant agreements which they both signed stating that no deposit was accepted.  We have had one of the tenants for some time and while she drives us crazy, when corrected she does make an effort to follow the rules of the house.  A few months ago we accepted a second roommate, ignoring some red flags on her rental history because we needed the extra monthly income. We have learned that she was (possibly still is) suing her previous landlord.  This leads us to believe that she has the potential of being actively vindictive when she is not happy in her living situation. 

This morning my alarm clock woke her up (through the walls and ceiling as her bedroom is a floor above mine) and I was 'too slow' to turn it off so she barged into my private bedroom just as I was hitting the button.  She then slammed my door aggressively, stomping all the way up to her room and slamming that door as well.  I texted her as I was headed out of the house that slamming doors in anger would not be tolerated under any circumstance and that I would buy a vibrating alarm if it was that problematic for her.  She doubled down asserting that I'm disrespectful for waking her up with my alarm repeatedly and demanding a roommate meeting.  She did seem to understand that it was not up for discussion so I let her know that if she did not like my solution and couldn't get in line with not slamming doors she could leave.  She sent out a group text summoning a roommate meeting to discuss issues her and our first roommate have. 

I spoke to my first roommate who claims she has no issues and only wanted to talk about upcoming vacation schedules and about upcoming renovation plans.  We feel that roommate 2 is looking for reinforcement to continue to discuss this mornings disagreement from the other roommate and we have no patience to sit around and talk about our 'feelings' about the matter.  I also don't care to troubleshoot other newer problems she has chosen to air now because I want her out of my house after how she spoke to me this morning.  I asked her what 'other issues' need to be addressed and she responded by accusing me of being 'verbally abusive' with my 'tone' (via text conversation) and that I was inappropriately 'badgering' her to tell me *now* what she wanted to discuss requiring a house meeting.  She then said that it was her right to call a meeting and that she is 'disappointed' I wont hear the 'complaints of (my) tenant*s*' asserting explicitly they both have 'issues' to raise.  She has lived with us a very short time (4 months) and leaves dishes in the sink, burns incense (had to be asked twice to stop), cleaned the shared bathroom once after being asked, and has never bought any paper products as indicated on her roommate agreement.  For the most part it's been fine but her performance this morning and rental history tell us it's not a good fit.  She seems too eager for a fight.  Her condescending attitude and the fact that it seems as though she is trying to create large issues where there are none have really soured our impression of her and I want her gone.  It's my house and she is month to month so I don't think I need much in terms of justifying that it just isn't working out. 

In the process of telling her it was not working out she told us in the group text that her 'decision has been made' after I had 'denied (her) a meeting' and that she would 'let (us) know when (she) found another place to live'.  Sounds good to us!  The problem: we do not want her hanging around until she finds another place because it could be 6 months from now for all we know.  I have a feeling she will try to find problems with the house the longer she stays as we are doing some construction and as mentioned it's an old house in the meantime to seek legal action as she did with her former landlord over code violations she finds or creates while living in the house.  I'm uncomfortable living with her and want her out as soon as possible to avoid any argument she might try to make in housing court.  

My specific questions are: 

-Where do I find out what her legal rights are as a roommate in an expressively month-to-month agreement with no deposit in a home that we own and occupy with tenants?  The Massachusetts laws I am aware of deal more particularly with rental properties that are not jointly occupied by the landlords.  
-What are the best options for removing her without legal retaliation?  My concern is that if we wait until she leaves on her own accord as she threatened, and we end up needing her out faster she will be able to say we are being retaliatory.  I'm inclined to provide her with a formal letter ending her month-to-month agreement and letting her know she is being asked to leave so that she cannot stretch the date out longer or claim that she gave notice when she was actually asked to leave.  
-Are we obligated to comply with her request to have a 'meeting' to prove cooperativeness or can we just tell her it's not a good fit and let that be reason enough to ask her to leave?  
-She paid rent for Feb already so I interpret that to mean she needs to be completely out by the end of March.  If she leaves anything behind we are obligated to put it in a storage unit at our own expense?  
-Do I have enough grounds for eviction?  

I actually feel really bad about forcing her out without having a backup place to live but I really just don't trust her and feel we are putting ourselves at risk by being too lenient.  

We knowingly took the risk of being in this situation by giving her the benefit of the doubt despite bad rental history upon signing the tenancy agreement because we needed the additional income.  Now what is the best way to end her tenancy?  

Too much drama.  Best to keep the emotion out of it as much as possible.

In most jurisdictions, a month-to-month tenancy can be terminated with 30 days notice.  Give her a letter terminating tenancy at the end of March and be done.  You don't need to give a reason.   It's probably better not to try as it will create more drama.

Tenant screening is cheap to do upfront but potentially costly if not done.  Also, a security deposit protects you and keeps out the truly deadbeat tenants.  Please do both next time.

My personal opinion is that any way to NOT involve courts on this is going to be faster/cheaper/better for you.  MA has very tenant friendly laws and people can try to game the system as much a possible, I've heard some horror stories from friends of friends about bad tenants that were able to stay in an apartment for over a year WITHOUT PAYING RENT!

The good news is, you live in the space with this roommate, so a judge will be more lenient with you as this person is directly impacting your home/life.  But this will take time, months most likely, before you get to court.  You'd have to file an eviction notice and you can find lots of other people talking about how to do that here.  During this time she might not pay rent either.  In the future you might not want to bother with a roommate rental agreement because without that agreement you could evict almost immediately!

But in the real world, any way you can get this person out of your house sooner is better for you.  I'd try to not offer money or anything unless a last resort because once they learn they can get money from you they will likely try to extort more.  Playing the social justice crap of roommate meetings to talk about stuff that doesn't matter makes me think this person is likely to try to play games.

You might try to be helpful and do some searching for/with them, print out listings that are in the price range as what she is paying you, etc.  Just phrase it so it comes across as helpful and not get-out-of-my-house sort.  Hope it helps!

I also did month-to-month leases when I hacked a SFH for this exact reason. Provide her with a 30 day notice IN WRITING. E-mail and hard copy. Retain records of these notices. While you're at it, retain records of all your interactions with her. I would call your local housing department to figure out what her legal rights are and what yours are as well. Then I'd consult an attorney.

Burgundy, I would still consult an attorney just to get an idea of what rights you have as well as the roomate.  It should not cost you anything for a consultation but you should have an idea of the legal ramifications.  

Thank you all for your participation in this post.  I have been keeping a low profile in the community for sometime but today I'm finding a lot of value in active discussion.

I did consult with a local attorney and @Howard Herrington @Thomas J. Budka and thank you for pushing me in that direction.  I was really surprised that I received a free phone consultation (as @Howard Herrington predicted).  

What troubles me is that he did not seem to put any weight on the fact that we live in the home with this woman.  In truth, we knew there were red flags with her rental history but we forged ahead thinking we had some additional protection because we share common areas with her.  As @Steve Smithy pointed out it might help us with sympathy from a judge if it raises to the level of housing court, but at that point she will have already have had a potentially free ride for months.  EEk. 

  
The attorney I spoke with laid out two paths: 
Option A, we give her formal notice without cause. Just let her know that it is no longer working out and because we are month-to-month (at-will), hopefully she will just head out.  

Option B, we find a 'cause' to have her removed such as something that has been violated in the roommate agreement.  She has not paid for any paper products in her four months living with us. I know this seems petty but it is a technical violation of her contract.  Rude behavior such as slamming doors does not breach our agreement.  

In either scenario she may (and from her history probably will try) to contact code enforcement to find something out of compliance. It should not be incredibly hard to do as it's an older New England home. The house qualified for the Mass Housing Partnership (MHP) loan two years ago, which has similar conditions/criteria to FHA at purchase. They ensure to a degree that the house has some basic code compliance in order to secure the mortgage. How much more stringent is code enforcement? Hopefully I wont find out!

Now, If I give her a 30 day notice tomorrow for cause of breaching her agreement by not purchasing paper goods (imagined scenario) and she decides to call in code enforcement they could find faults that she might argue out weight the monetary value of the paper products.  How much pocket change does toilet paper cost?  If she can claim something that would monetarily outweigh the pocket change for T.P. then she would feasibly be able to stay in our shared home indefinitely.  Even with the Massachusetts tenant friendly courts this seems outrageous.  

We are planning to write her a formal 30 day notice and try to keep things civil but friendly and to the point until she leaves.  We thought about letting her leave on her own terms but I'm still too worried that the longer she stays the more opportunity she will have to extort as others have cautioned. 

The advice I had been given in a Landlord course and by a family member were to avoid a security deposit because there are too many opportunities to make an error and wind up in housing court for getting it 'wrong'.  I recently learned that even collecting first and last follows similar guidelines where we should be opening a separate account to allow for interest etc.  

We chose not to rent to 'friends' so that we could remove people easier.  We still probably should have waited for better roommate prospects before settling on this one though.  Hindsight is 20:20.  

Warmly,
Burgundy

 

@Account Closed give the notice without cause. If you give it for cause, especially for something trivial, a judge may allow her to cure it and continue living there.

Give notice without cause.  Don't get into a discussion it is enough to repeat, it is not working out.  Don't get into the reasons and drama.  Like a broken record all of you should just say it isn't working out. Good luck in your next place.   Then if you have to because they don't leave get an eviction attorney.  Don't forget to change the locks when she is out. 

As for a new roommate while traditional screening is important you might be better off with someone with a lower credit score (due to lack of history) that you personally feel you can get along with.  Consider getting a deposit too and adding paper products to the rent.  There are a lot of people looking for rooms if you are in a decent area in MA.  


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