How to deal with troubled tenant in Massachusetts?

9 Replies

Hi, I am a new landlord and have to learn a lot. I bought a multifamily with tenant that does not want to cooperate with me. My story is not at all so dramatic compare to many other stories on this forum, but I want to make things right. The tenant does not let me to do required repairs in the apartment, lives personal stuff including UPS boxes on the stairs (one for each) Removes when I ask, and starts all over. Tenant on TAW. Previous home owner didn't have any written document, no deposit, nothing. Current rent is about $500/month below market, and if this unit will be renovated it can be $900-$1000 over the rent that I get now. Tenant pays rent, feel very confident and comfortable. Obviously doesn't plan to move out, or accept rent close to the market price. She has a boy. Father of the boy lives with them, but I don't think they are married, so she can play a single mom role. Ideally I want them to cooperate and pay rent close to market, or move. How it can be done? I don't want a war with years of eviction, and completely damaged apartment. This family is on the 3rd floor, and I also don't want them to disturb other 2 families during this period.

@Linda Roberts

This is a very unique situation. Normally there would be a written lease and you would simply not renew their lease and provide them with a 60 day notice or whatever time frame the lease dictated. It seems like you have a verbal, month-to-month lease with them. I would speak to a local real estate attorney about sending them notice that you will be terminating the verbal lease. Possibly have the attorney send it to them directly (certified). I would give them a 60 day notice but use your attorney's best judgement.

@Linda Roberts The very first thing you should do is to take the landlord/tenant course. https://www.metrohousingboston... Or another one like it.

It is mission critical that you understand the landlord tenant laws in Massachusetts because they are tenant-friendly in the extreme.  A mis-step can get you hauled into housing court, where there is a very strong bias against landlords.  The prevailing view seems to be that landlords are greedy capitalists who get rich from the sweat on the backs of the working class.

It's probably too late now, but prior to closing, you should have required an estoppel certificate from them.  This is a document that they sign detailing the terms of their lease as well as any deposits that were held by the landlord.

At this point, the tenants could come back and claim that they are owed last month and security deposit.  Without the estoppel, you're on the hook.

If they are month-to-month, you can try to evict - IF - the state is allowing evictions.  I believe there is a current COVID moratorium on evictions though. 

You can try to raise the rent, but the tenant has a very strong negotiating position with that moratorium in place.  My advice would be to raise the rent gently.  I'd also check with your attorney to be sure a rent increase is permissible with the moratorium in place.  I'd be concerned that it could be viewed as a de facto eviction.

Good luck!

I'd first familiarize yourself with the eviction process there in MA just in case you have to go that far. The normal route would be serve a 30 days notice of termination of month to month lease, unless they sign a new yearly lease at a higher rental amount. 

You could also give them $500-1000 in cash to leave the unit and avoid any eviction or hassle. 

Before you do another thing - give this situation another thought - you need to stop and learn which your rights and obligations are as a Landlord.  For example:

The tenant has no right to restrict access to the unit.  Under your state law, you give 24 hours notice and go:

Know you lease and enforce it.  The tenant doesn't dictate rental price. If they don't like the new price for a new lease term, they move on.  And, if they are on assistance, you have to start the rent increase process with that Housing Authority - not the tenant. 

Please stop and read your lease. Please read the Landlord - Tenant Laws for your state (you can literally just google that), and contact the Housing Authority/Assistance Office.  What you don't know can and will hurt you.  Gotta get it right and then take control of your investment.  

@Patricia Steiner The catch is that I am in Massachusetts. From everything I read here it looks like if I increase rent, tenant can refuse to sign a lease and continue paying old rent. I most likely lose my eviction case in Mass if my argument is price increase. In Mass i don't need by law to wait 24 hours to get to the apartment, still I can't do required maintenance if tenant refuse me in. 

@Linda Roberts here are my two cents. Right now in Mass you are stuck for a couple more weeks till the eviction moratorium is up ( unless they extend ). So there is little you can do to push an eviction.

Regarding the repairs I would do TRO for access. That is how we do it when denied access.

Once the Moratorium is lifted since it sounds like you do not have a lease I would just give a 30 day notice for the increased rental amount and be prepared to then just give a 30 day notice to vacate. I would then make sure to have a good lawyer that specializes in tenant/landlord law to push it through the courts. Typically we are able to get this accomplished in 60 days from summary process.

You might need to meditate and make an agreement for her to vacate over time but in that agreement I would do something where each month the rent is increased until she leaves or you are at the market rent.

If you have further questions please feel free to PM me

@Linda Roberts Sorry to be late to respond. As for access I don't think you need permission depending on what the repair is. You tell them on such a date at this time the plumber will be there to fix the sink. It is nice to give 24 or 48 hour notice. The tenant does not have to be there. Hopefully you have a key and let the plumber in. If you do not have a key you can  tell them on such and such a date you are having all the locks changed and will provide them with a new key.

If it is an emergency type repair, say the sink is leaking into the apartment below you can go to the court for the TRO to force access, even with COVID, which hopefully will be over this weekend.

It is not up to tenant to decide what to pay for rent, you do. So if they COVID restrictions are lifted this weekend on Monday you serve the tenant with a notice that the tenancy is being terminated at the end of November. If they do not move out by the end of November, go to court to evict them.

If you want to keep them but raise the rent and/or have them complete an application get a security deposit or last months rent from them, then when you tell them the tenancy is over, you can offer them a new one provided they complete the application and are approved and this is what the new rent will be. If they don't like it then the tenancy is over and they have to leave. If they don't leave you evict.

If you keep them and have them do an application be sure to state everyone who lives there and that they are all responsible for rent (boyfriend)

There some attorneys out there that concentrate in evictions and you may want to hire one so it can be done right.

As was said above, you need to take control of your property/investment.

Good Luck

@Douglas Snook Thanks for your advice. On your opinion what can be reasonable rent increase? Can I ask for $300 increase? It's still below market even for Boson Covid prices. I will be happy if they leave, but it doesn't look like they will do it without mediation or even a court hearing. In this case I don't know what's better, just a 30 day Notice to Quit, or also option for new TAW with a new rent. From everything I read, if they disagree and continue paying old rent ontime, the court most likely will be on their side. What would be a right thing to do?  

You didn't say where the property is or what class the building/area is. What are the other tenants paying? I would at least bring it in line with the other tenants - maybe even raise all their rents. Then these tenants shouldn't feel they are being picked on.

You could do $300 or $250; see what their response is. If they balk then you have to decide if you want to back down to keep them or not.

You can terminate the tenancy and offer a new one at a higher rent without requiring that they sign a year lease or provide deposits. So to start you might just want to raise the rent $100 and see how it goes (do they pay on time, do they complain etc) and then in six months you can go up $100 again. Nothing says you have to wait a year.

Speaking of the other tenants, do you have leases with them? Do you want to have leases with them? Maybe you prefer month to month. Even month to month I would probably consider having a written lease signed, then you know exactly who is at he apartment and get it in writing things like no smoking, no pets etc.

If you really want to and need to renovate the apartment to get market rent, it might be best in the end to just terminate the tenancy, no option for renewal even at a higher rate.  If they don't leave, go to court. With the COVID back log it may take you several months to get a hearing and get them out but you should be able to do it. The renovate and start fresh