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July 2016

7 Ways You

Can Collect a Rental Applicant’s

Proof of Income

No Trespassing! Unless anyone wants ice cream? The Shower Disaster of Cassidy Contractor, A Tall Tale SJC: OK to End Association with Project-Based Vouchers


Contents

7

from the 3 Letter Executive Director

Voucher 13 Local Program Approved

Ways You Can 4 7Collect a Rental

Shower Disaster 15 The of Cassidy Contractor,

Applicant’s Proof of Income

7 and 8 Questions Answers

Don’t be Scammed

Trespassing! 10 No Unless anyone

wants ice cream?

A Tall Tale

filed against 19 Lawsuit rental inspections OK to End 20 SJC: Association with Project-Based Vouchers

21 Region-specific News

to Fix a Loose 13 How Door Hinge

13 19

15

2 • MassLandlords Newsletter

20


July 2016

Published by MassLandlords, 14th Floor, One Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02142. The largest non-profit for Massachusetts landlords. We help landlords. We also advocate for better laws. info@masslandlords.net 774-314-1896 THE MASSLANDLORDS BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Pietro Curini, through 2020 Joyce Nierodzinski, through 2019 Yvonne DiBenedetto, through 2018 Michael O’Rourke, through 2017 Jane Gasek, through 2016 Russell Sabadosa, by member resolution, until September 14, 2017 EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Douglas Quattrochi dquattrochi@masslandlords.net MANAGER OF COMMUNICATIONS AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Susan Manning BOOKKEEPING

Vipan Garg, Simran Kaur MESSAGE BOARDS, SERVICE DIRECTORY, AND DATA

Fatima Cangas, Nomer Caceres WORCESTER MEETING VOLUNTEER

Richard Trifone

WORCESTER PROGRAMS VOLUNTEER

Richard Merlino

PUBLIC POLICY VOLUNTEERS

Sandra Katz, Ralph “Skip” Schloming, Michelle Kasabula WORCESTER REGISTRATION DESK STAFF

Naomi Elliott, Caitlin Taylor

GRAPHIC DESIGN, ADVERTISER PROGRAM, AND CREATIVES

Simona Meloni, Ani Dmitrova NEWSLETTER DESIGN

Ailar Arak

VIDEOGRAPHY

Paul Mong

TRANSCRIPTION

Prospero Pulma SOCIAL MEDIA VOLUNTEER

Elaine Fisher

LOCAL TEAMS SPRINGFIELD

Sheryl Chase, Russell Sabadosa, Susan McMahon, and more MARLBORO

Sherri Way, Laurel Young, Daniel Schiappa, and more

Letter from the Executive Director June 2016 will be remembered as a turning point for MassLandlords on our journey from volunteerpowered to professionally staffed. The membership overwhelmingly approved our legal name change, from the historical Worcester Property Owners Association, Inc. to MassLandlords, Inc. The smart and hardworking attorneys at New Leaf Legal took care of this promptly. It’s official. We are now MassLandlords, Inc. Of far greater importance was the vote, overwhelmingly in favor, to accept the assets of the dissolving Rental Housing Association of Greater Springfield. In exchange for this gift, we would give their members a legal vote, carry on their meetings and operations, and ensure continued contributions from their volunteers and staff. This process is complicated, and the legal paperwork is only started, but we are all now in perfect agreement on the broad terms, and also, that it should be carried out. These two changes allow us to strengthen our operations in Worcester and Springfield, and combined with much work being done in other areas, we can now look to extend our meetings and events into Newton, Cambridge, and eventually the North Shore. One of the big improvements you will have noticed is the June newsletter. This is now the trade newsletter for those who provide rental housing in Massachusetts. Landlords, public housing administrators, and housing advocates can all find articles of interest each month. Our approach is evenhanded and non-partisan. Our mission to create better rental housing. Free enterprise and public assistance both have important roles to play. How can we best achieve all that should be done? We will use the newsletter to discuss these broad issues as well as to give concrete management tips and tricks. Behind the scenes, in June we also improved the availability of membership data for our service providers and local volunteers. Previously it was difficult for our team to keep in touch with members about events and renewals. Some of our paid members may have found themselves lapsed without meaning to be. We have tightened up and distributed our treasury process, renewal mailing process, and membership list processes. Rather than concentrate these in the virtual “main office,” we have figured out ways to share the work while maintaining essential supervision and privacy. All of this is consistent with our march toward the twin goals of “valuable services, significant size.” These are two sides of the same coin. It’s too big a job for one person. But working together and cooperating as we have been, we’re sure to become a force for good in Massachusetts. Thank you for being a part of MassLandlords. Tell your friends about us, we’re on to great things.

STURBRIDGE

David Foote, Hunter Foote, Ronald Bernard, Donat Charon, and more CAMBRIDGE

Lenore Monello-Schloming, Dawna Provost, Linda Levine, and more

Sincerely, Doug Quattrochi Executive Director C: 617-285-7255

With Immense Gratitude to Seven Decades of Past Volunteers

MassLandlords Newsletter • 3


July 2016

7 Ways You Can

Collect a Rental Applicant’s

Proof of Income HOW CAN LANDLORDS VERIFY SALARY AND GOVERNMENT BENEFITS? THIS ARTICLES GIVES SOME TIPS AND TRICKS.

Landlords and rental managers should verify an applicant’s ability to pay rent on an ongoing basis. This is why we ask for “proof of income” on a rental application. What counts as proof of income? How can landlords verify salary and government benefits? This article gives some tips and tricks for verifying income on a rental application.

PAY STUBS The most common proof of income is looking at pay stubs. Pay stubs have the advantage of being familiar. Many applicants are already prepared to share their pay stubs with landlords. 4 • MassLandlords Newsletter

Pay stubs are also hard to forge. Typically, they will have a payroll company’s logo or other corporate brand, be formatted to fit on smaller paper, and have numbers that follow patterns. (For instance, you can compare social security withholding to gross income. If the stub is forged, the numbers will likely be random and very wrong.) The disadvantage of pay stubs is that they are rearward-looking. You can’t tell from an applicant’s past earnings whether they are still employed. For hourly workers, ask for pay stubs in sequence for as long a time period as you need to feel comfortable. An applicant with a varied schedule week-to-week might need to present six pay stubs before you get a reliable measure of their average earnings. Check the dates on pay stubs carefully to look for missing pay stubs. This might indicate that the tenant has told you they work harder than they actually do. Missing pay stubs should be counted as “zero income” for the period. For salaried workers, check that the total compensation is roughly the same period-to-period.

OFFER LETTER Another common proof of income is a recent offer of employment on company

letterhead. This is forward-looking and indicates the salary or hourly rate. Be careful: offer letters are often conditional upon things like drug tests, which the applicant may not yet have passed. Offer letters may also have expiration dates. Offer letters can be accepted as proof of income most easily when a tenant has arrived new in town and hasn’t yet started work.

EMPLOYER PHONE VERIFICATION Small businesses are often able to verify employment and compensation over the phone. Larger corporations may have outsourced this with a company like The Work Number, for instance. If the applicant gives you the number to call, try to verify it independently. They could have given you their friend’s number, and given their friend a script to lie to you. An independently verified phone number can be a fast and forward-looking way to verify employment up-to-the-day.

BANK STATEMENTS Some applicants work at smaller businesses that can’t provide any of the above proof of income for their employee. They don’t produce pay stubs or offer letters and they don’t answer verification requests over the phone. For these, ask the tenant for a bank statement showing their regular deposits. This works whether they are paid by cash or check. Add up their regular deposits and create your own “pseudo pay stub” with their average earnings. Watch out for transfers between accounts. A dishonest tenant could move money back and forth between accounts to create the appearance of cash flow. Ask to see the statement for the other accounts if there is heavy transfer activity.


July 2016

TAX RETURNS Tax returns can serve as proof of income for very stable applicants who don’t want to share bank statements but who don’t have pay stubs, either. Some examples: a senior living off of substantial savings or retirement accounts, a business owner with regular dividends or distributions, or a self-employed person working at their own business. Look for a pattern of consistently adequate earnings over several years, if possible.

TENANTS WHO OPERATE ALL-CASH The cash economy hurts rental applicants badly. If they never deposit the money in their account, and never claim it on their taxes, there is no way for a landlord or any other third party to verify the income. Unreported tips, under-the-table wages, and lucrative side hobbies cannot be counted by scrupulous landlords on the rental application. You can safely deny such applicants on the basis of “proved income is inadequate.” Some special circumstances call for exceptions. Expert hair stylists, tattoo artists, piercers, waitresses, musicians, and other artists in the right setting, if they are very good at their job, and if they are working at an establishment of some renown, might be reliable all-cash tenants without any proof of income. For instance, you might know that your applicant is employed at a local tattoo parlor which draws in patrons from around the country, that this parlor is almost all-cash (there is such a place in Worcester, MA for instance), and that

your applicant is somewhat famous and sought-after in his or her field. If you have this perfect alignment, you can waive the income requirement on an application. Write down the reasons why you know this person is famous in their field, write down the fact that their business is all-cash inand-out, and write the time and date you verified their active employment at their venue. For instance, “Tenant all-cash but asserts ability to pay rent. Has 20,000 Instagram followers. Visited her at work on 6/15 to confirm employment as indicated.” Remember that this is an exception for relatively famous people and should be used rarely if ever. Most all-cash applicants should be advised to get and use a bank account and reapply in the future.

TENANTS WITHOUT JOBS NEED PROOF OF SUBSIDY Tenants without jobs can still have income. Federal programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) give a regular stipend to the blind, aged, and disabled. Applicants with SSI or SSDI can request a “benefit verification letter”. This benefit is the only way they can afford to pay rent. You can require such applicants to produce this. Other programs like the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) or the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) are designed to eliminate the income portion of a

landlord’s application. They guarantee that the tenant will not pay more than one-third of their gross income to rent. For these tenants, you need a benefit verification letter from their voucher administrator. Other applicants may come with still other subsidies. There is a seemingly limitless supply of sources of funding. Whatever they claim to have, make sure as the landlord you get proof of this subsidy income. There is a risk of fraud, but there is a far greater risk that the tenant is misinformed about their own subsidy. They might think they can afford your apartment, but in reality, perhaps the subsidy isn’t as valuable as they thought. This is a common mistake with participants in programs like HomeBASE.

WATCH FOR DISCRIMINATION IN WORDING Asking tenants to prove their salary is different from asking for proof of income. Don’t ask for proof of salary or wages. This could be misconstrued as a signal that you will not rent to subsidized tenants. Ask for proof of income and you should be legally covered. When in doubt, consult with an attorney about your screening practices. We hope this article has helped you to think of some new ways to collect proof of income. It’s a critical piece of your rental application and tenant screening process. Collect proof of income from all applicants and you can be sure to maximize your chances of success in the rental business. Good luck! ML

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800-982-7239 / 508-753-3632 MassLandlords Newsletter • 5


July 2016

ARTICLE YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

HUD Bans Convictions (not just Arrests) as Automatic Disqualifier on Rental Applications Full article at MassLandlords.net/blog. Excerpt: As of Monday April 4, 2016, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may begin prosecuting landlords who use criminal history as a blanket disqualifier on rental applications.

Marcel Breuer – Department of Housing and Urban Development Headquarters

Ford’s Pest of the Month: Crabgrass Crabgrass is an herbaceous annual plant. Annuals are plants that begin as seed and die in the same given year. In the spring crabgrass germinates when soil temperatures (not air temperatures) reach 56 degrees for a consecutive three days in a row. This plant will mature to a full plant, which will reproduce seeds for the following year. The plant browns and dies off in the fall when cool weather approaches. Each plant is known to produce over 150,000 seeds. For future reference, it is very common to get crabgrass along

6 • MassLandlords Newsletter

walkways, driveways, and hot spots such as sandy soils or bare exposed soil where soil temperatures increase quickly. Also, slow growing turf from poor cultural practices such as inadequate watering and low mowing will allow crabgrass and many other weeds to germinate. Usually by the first week of May, crabgrass has begun to germinate. Each passing day beyond germination pushes it a little further beyond our control. Late applications will give you limited control. In this situation, you must expect crabgrass

during this season. In the coming year we will control around 85% of the crabgrass and each year after it will increasingly get better. If service is performed before May 1, we will continue our efforts and spot spray with a post emergent herbicide to reduce the number of plants. Post emergent can take over 14 days before seeing results. Chris Ford Vice President, Lawn Care Division


July 2016

Don’t be Scammed Westfield Police are cautioning landlords to be vigilant when renting units to new tenants after some were targeted in a check scheme recently. The scammers are hitting landlords on the off-campus housing list. They contact them by phone or email, then send a check for the deposit. The problem, however, is the check is made out for more than is owed. The thieves then ask the landlord to send the difference. The landlord realizes they’ve been had when the check bounces and they are now out the entire amount of the check. According to the Westfield Police, two landlords were approached so far, but neither fell victim to the scheme. The moral of this story is: Be wise. These are your properties; make sure to fully vet the potential tenants so you’re not schemed! ML

ACCORDING TO THE WESTFIELD POLICE, TWO LANDLORDS WERE APPROACHED SO FAR, BUT NEITHER FELL VICTIM TO THE SCHEME.

Protect Your Home

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July 2016

Questions and Answers ADAPTED FROM OUR MESSAGE BOARDS, WHERE MEMBERS CAN ASK QUESTIONS AND GET ANSWERS. PRACTICING LANDLORDS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS ANSWER QUESTIONS, AND WE COMBINE THE BEST ANSWERS INTO ONE HERE. Q: MY PROPERTY ABUTS ANOTHER ON A NEIGHBORING STREET AT THE REAR OF THE LOT. NON-TENANTS ARE WALKING THROUGH MINE IN ORDER TO ACCESS THE OTHER PROPERTY. I HAVE ALREADY TALKED TO THE NON-TENANTS, BUILT A FENCE, AND POSTED NO-TRESPASSING SIGNS. THERE IS NO EASEMENT OR RIGHT OF WAY. I BELIEVE THEY HAVE STOLEN SOMETHING OFF MY PROPERTY AND MAY BE SELLING DRUGS. WHAT CAN I DO? This is a bad situation! Your tenants don’t want to see non-residents walking past their back door, conducting drug deals, or taking their stuff!

You have already done all the correct things. (You are brave for talking to these people and asking them to stop walking through.) There are some self-help options, and some government-help options. First, call your local police department and tell them you have heard of drug dealings and want them to stake the place out. Some cities maintain a separate “vice” unit for drugs and prostitution. They can do this discretely to gather evidence. You can help them by asking your tenants to do the same. Note the people, the time of arrival and departure, and any vehicle registrations you can see. Second, consider self-help: thick axle grease smeared along the

Razor wire or barbed wire is one way to stop trespassers. By Mr Granger, Wikipedia

top of the fence will prevent most people from climbing over it twice. Be careful, if it’s obvious that you have done this, they will be angry at you. Don’t get caught. You can also plant roses or pyracantha as a natural “barbed wire”, but these will need time to grow.


July 2016

enacted in the current zoning regulations. The City of Worcester zoning is also mute on barbed wire, although it has a lot to say about fences.

Q: I COLLECTED SECURITY DEPOSITS AND AFTER REVIEWING THE MASSLANDLORDS CHECKLIST, I’VE DETERMINED THAT I DID NOT CONFORM 100%. CAN I MAKE IT BETTER?

Massachusetts law about barbed wire establishes a one-time fine for placement within 6’ of the ground if along a public way, which is not applicable to your situation unless you have an easement or something like power lines running behind the lot. Local city ordinance will rule in most cases on barbed wire. The City of Cambridge once proposed to ban barbed wire, but it doesn’t appear to be

Thank you for reviewing the security deposit checklist! Whether you can make it better depends on your relationship with the tenant, and which part of the law has not been complied with. The default advice is, “Give the security deposit back.” You may be able to keep the security deposit if you have a good relationship with your tenants. If they decide to take you to court, they may be able to get triple damages depending on which mistakes you made. The best way to do it would be to close out whatever account you have the deposit in now and write them a

check for the security deposit amount plus interest. The law allows you to take a deposit mid-tenancy as long as it doesn’t ever exceed one month’s rent. After the first deposit is given back, take a second one. Then follow the checklist to the letter on this second deposit. If you end up in court, the security deposit you have was taken midtenancy, and the judge should (we can’t guarantee this) should only look at what happened for that particular deposit. The intent of the triple damages is the presumption that the deposit has been lost in its totality. Returning the first deposit should (we can’t guarantee this) should eliminate that presumption. If you end up in court, and the attorney says to give the first or second deposit back, do it without hesitation. ML

Do you Screen <4 Tenants Per Year? We wrote an article a while back comparing screening options. Small landlords who want to see a real FICO score without an on-site inspection should click the SmartScreen ad we're now running on the site. Each SmartScreen report you order by clicking from MassLandlords.net supports our work.

NO SITE INSPECTION REQUIRED Many landlords were grandfathered in and never had site inspections. New landlords usually need to be inspected. New small landlords operating out of their kitchen cannot pass an on-site inspection. This is why we looked for (and found) SmartScreen.

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credit data. If you have four vacancies or more each year, you can save money with another service by paying their monthly or annual fees in exchange for a lower per-report cost. SmartScreen has no monthly or annual fee. Some competitors are cheaper but they don't give real credit data, they only give you a surrogate score. Be careful. If you don't get an actual FICO score, you are paying for someone else to evaluate the tenant's credit. You get what you pay for. Note: members can log in to get a coupon code for discounts. MassLandlords receives an affiliate commission for each screening report processed.

If you have fewer than four vacancies a year, SmartScreen is the cheapest way to get real

MassLandlords Newsletter • 9


July 2016

No Trespassing!

Unless anyone wants ice cream? BOSTON GLOBE UNQUESTIONINGLY REPORTS POSSIBLE HOMEOWNER AS HOMELESS PERSON IN TRESPASS CASE. On June 23, 2016 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that a homeless person can be cleared of criminal trespass charges if they trespassed to save their life. That’s all well and good, but the case appears to have been about a Great Barrington, MA property owner who trespassed into an ice cream parlor in June, among other adventures. As reported by the Boston Globe, David Magadini of Great Barrington was arrested for criminal trespass on three properties in February, March, April and June 2014, seven charges total. Six of the convictions were vacated in the recent decision and sent for retrial. The Globe does not explain what the SJC decision does, namely, that Magadini had had a no-trespass order filed against him for entering SoSo Creamery, an ice cream shop, in January, and that he re-entered the following June against court order, during business hours, simply to relieve himself. There was no emergency. The court upheld this conviction. The Globe called MassLandlords asking for a comment on the case, giving less than four hours to research and reply. We declined, and good thing, because the case gets weirder.

MAGADINI MAY HAVE A HOME AND MONEY The Globe’s tissue thin reporting fails to investigate what may be common knowledge in Great Barrington, that Magadini may be himself a homeowner. According to MassLandRecords.com, one David Magadini is the deed holder of record for 78 Christian Hill Rd, Great Barrington, MA. (Online comments on the Boston Globe Article tipped us off to this possibility.) 10 • MassLandlords Newsletter

MassLandlords could not verify whether this was the same David Magadini, but the circumstantial evidence is intriguing: • The primary Google search or whitepages results for the name “David Magadini” indicate that it may be unique in Massachusetts. • The Berkshire Edge wrote a story on “The Mayor of Main Street” and called his way of life “eccentric” but stopped short of saying he chooses to live on the street. • On December 2, 2015, a different paper, the Berkshire Eagle posted on Facebook that Magadini “has opted to live on the streets”. • The SJC filing notes that the lower courts judged Magadini has having failed to demonstrate inability to afford a hotel room.

even able to comment in time, and consider what was said by Kelly Turley, homelessness advocate at the Mass Coalition for the Homeless. Turley said, “As any one of us likely would do in similar circumstances, he [Magadini] found warm places to stay even though he was not welcome there in order to survive in a harsh New England winter.” Amen to the sentiment! No human being would tell a homeless person to go die in the cold. But we doubt the Globe told Turley about, or gave her time to discover for herself, the June ice cream trespass, or Magadini’s alleged wealth, either of which might have shifted the direction of her quote. The picture being painted is not homelessness per se but the decline of journalism, or to be more generous with the Globe, mental health at best: Great Barrington has a shelter. Magadini was denied entry. The SJC decision states, “He was told to leave because of ‘certain issues’.” Was he being

MassLandlords asked a Great Barrington local to comment on the record, but they declined. Does Magadini have means or not?

THE BOSTON GLOBE DID A LOUSY JOB WITH THIS STORY This story is being heralded as a landmark decision, but in fact, it is a narrow ruling affirming existing laws. And the “poster child” for homelessness may in fact be a wealthy but eccentric trespasser. The Globe’s quoting practices are especially lamentable. MassLandlords wasn’t

The Berkshire Eagle posted to their Facebook page that David Magadini has chosen to live as a homeless person.


July 2016

disruptive to the other tenants? This could signal mental health troubles. But were the “certain issues” an oblique reference to Magadini’s alleged choice to live outside of his home? The shelter staff might wish to house only those who actually need shelter. They may have known, as perhaps locals do, that Magadini may have had means. There is a story here, but it is not the one reported.

homelessness, mental health, private property, and/or journalism. We honestly can’t tell which. As a Commonwealth, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax revenue to help and shelter the homeless. Is the system a failure for this individual? Something seems to have gone wrong here. Why was he denied shelter? Why are we still tying up public resources retrying his trespasses? What is going on?

NO IMPACT ON THE LAW

ADVICE FOR LANDLORDS: THE FEAR OF SQUATTING AND TRESPASS IS REAL

The justices, for their part, appear to have produced a technically correct decision, especially in demanding retrials. They have affirmed the criminal conviction for the June trespass in the ice cream shop. They have affirmed established law. It’s bizarre that they have reversed the detailed investigations of the lower courts, who could have prevented criminal trespass convictions if the facts of the case had merited it. But the law requires certain procedural disclosures about the “defense of necessity,” and these were not made, so the case must be retried. In any event, this is not the case the homelessness advocates were hoping for, nor the landlords, nor anyone, really, except the ACLU defense attorneys.

QUESTIONS UNANSWERED Overall, this case highlights the extreme inadequacy of our current approach to

Massachusetts has some of the toughest housing laws in the country. One Warren landlord we spoke with, Ron Bernard, had squatters in his vacancy all winter. Bernard said, “There was little that the police could do about it, other than keep an eye on the place to ensure peace was maintained.” Bernard’s tenants were eventually enticed to leave. He said, “They’re still on the hook at housing court for rent and damages, but that’s purely academic.” Bernard was referring to the inability to collect on court judgments in Massachusetts. Landlords interested in keeping control over their property, whether residential or commercial, should use the recent SJC case as motivation to conduct a security audit of all the properties. Do fences and gates restrict

common areas? Are doors, hatches, and windows lockable from the inside? Are tenants and staff properly trained in the use of these locks? Does the building need electronic surveillance or a security system? Are there obvious unsecured means of entry? Landlords should walk around each building to see.

CONCLUSION Until our society can help every last individual with their particular, idiosyncratic needs, we will continue to have disagreement over property and space. Try to avoid having your business become the proverbial “Great Barrington ice cream shop.” You won’t know why they’re there, you won’t be able to prosecute them, but you can be glad when the misreported stories shrink back into the margins and, like so many of the genuinely homeless, just seem to disappear. ML

Need a Bookkeeper? Newly Added to Our Service Provider Directory Members can search MassLandlords.net/Directory for local service providers reviewed by other members. If you're a non-member, you might want to Google the following recent additions: • Champagne Bookkeeping and Tax in Leominster (member recommendation) • Dust to Diamond Cleaning in Worcester (one new recommendation) • Stephen Lapomardo, Constable in Central Mass (one new recommendation) • and many more! Any member can recommend a service provider. We have recommendations from Springfield to Boston! Email directory@masslandlords.net with a name, their trade, and a review.

MassLandlords Newsletter • 11


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July 2016

How to Fix

a Loose Door Hinge A loose door hinge with stripped screw holes can be very annoying. The door won’t close, or won’t stay closed, and the only solution seems to be a big carpentry job. Do you really have to remove the jamb and place in a new one? No! Fortunately, there’s a fast and easy way to fix a loose door hinge. Remove the loose screws from the hinge. Fold the hinge away. Support the door if necessary by shimming underneath the far end with a rag or folded paper

(or if you have one, an actual wooden shim). Insert something wooden into the Plastic chopsticks (top) are to be avoided. Wooden chopsticks (center) can work. Image CC-SA Aevar Arnfjoro Bjarmason hole. A perfectly sized dowel makes for a professional use a chisel or a Dremel rotating tool to looking job. But we’ve heard of all kinds cut the ends flush with the hinge surface. of things being used, from golf tees to You can now drill straight into chopsticks. Insert whatever it is you’re the wooden insert to replace the using with a little wood glue. If necessary, screws. Voila, door fixed! ML

Local Voucher Program Approved Those who need help with housing will soon have one more option in Waltham. The City Council in January voted to use $2.1 million of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) monies to fund vouchers for 50 families in Waltham. The CPA was passed by voters in 2005 and puts a 2% surcharge on property taxes, after the first $100,000. The money collected can be used for open space, recreation, historic preservation or affordable housing. The voucher program has a proposed three-year timeline during which the funds would go to the Waltham Housing Authority, which would, in turn, give the subsidies to the landlords involved. According to Waltham Wicked Local, the city has $21.3 million in CPA funds available, but only $300,000 is being used for affordable housing despite a requirement that 10% be used for the cause. The new Waltham voucher program could breathe new life into the effort around housing accessibility and offer hope to those who haven’t been able to take advantage of outdated programs like Chapter 40B, which has been around since 1969. Chapter 40B allows new developments to bypass local zoning bylaws in order to increase the amount of affordable housing in towns that don’t have 10% yet.

The difference between this and the Waltham voucher program is that 40B doesn’t have subsidies. Rather, it is expected the developer will absorb the difference between the affordable units and the market value units. The Waltham program, which was proposed by the Waltham Alliance to Create Housing (WATCH) and its Tenant Action Group (TAG), will “ensure that tenants’ rents are only 30% of their income. While more permanent low-income housing options are needed, this was a huge step forward that only happened because of the community organizing efforts of WATCH, and the residents of Waltham.” The program will start as soon as the contract between the city and Waltham Housing Authority is approved. According to WATCH, “With almost 6,000 households incomeeligible for the voucher and 5% of the city’s residents living in overcrowded or substandard housing, the need in Waltham is pressing.” Paul Brasco, an opponent on the City Council, said that initially the state was

matching 100% of CPA funds, but has now cut back. According to Rep. Tom Stanley, that is nothing new. When the CPA passed, the state said it would match as much as it could, but would not be able to maintain 100% matching as more towns adopted it; the funds wouldn’t exist to maintain that level. To consider: Why does the city need a new voucher system when federal and state programs exist? Would more education help landlords and tenants understand options available to them? MassLandlords will continue to follow and report on this ongoing issue. YOUR TURN: What do you think about the program? Is it needed? Tell us here: comment@masslandlords.net. ML

THE VOUCHER PROGRAM HAS A PROPOSED THREE-YEAR TIMELINE DURING WHICH THE FUNDS WOULD GO TO THE WALTHAM HOUSING AUTHORITY, WHICH WOULD, IN TURN, GIVE THE SUBSIDIES TO THE LANDLORDS INVOLVED. MassLandlords Newsletter • 13


Member FDIC l Member DIF


July 2016

The Shower Disaster of Cassidy Contractor,

A Tall Tale Spring came early that year and Larry Landlord was looking forward to his many renovation projects. Chief among these was a shower renovation to replace a plastic surround with tile. Little did he know his renovation would be a case study in how not to hire and manage contractors. Larry heard about Cassidy Contractor through his local landlord network. Cassidy had presented at a meeting and came recommended by a non-landlord homeowner with a beautiful mansion. Certainly anyone with a mansion would only hire a good contractor. Larry called Cassidy

Tired of being a Landlord?

to meet at the property and give a quote. “We don’t give quotes,” Cassidy said when he arrived at the property. “We only work to estimates, because we don’t know what we’ll find when we demolish the walls. The job could be short or it could be long.” Larry thought that seemed reasonable. He had an old house, maybe the walls underneath would be partly rotten, or uneven, or who knows what. Larry listened while Cassidy looked at the shower and explained everything he would do.

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HamptonPropertiesLLC.com MassLandlords Newsletter • 15 We specialize in short sales! All information will be kept confidential.


July 2016

Larry had a list of questions written down in advance. Cassidy answered some of them during his sales pitch, and then Larry asked the rest. “Are you keeping the shower rod? Do you tile all the way up to the ceiling? What will it look like here at the edge of the existing wall?” Cassidy answered all of these questions to Larry’s satisfaction. This apartment was occupied by long-term tenants. The renovation was a thank-you gift for renewing their lease. They were looking forward to their new shower! They were there listening

as Cassidy and Larry spoke, and then they asked their own questions. “What color tile will it be? Can we have a new showerhead? Can we have a stripe of different colored tile?” Cassidy pointed the landlord to a local tile supplier and said the landlord could pick all this out. Larry told the tenants he’d get some samples and show them. Larry was such a good landlord! When all the questions were answered, Cassidy explained that he did all his estimating on Fridays. He would prepare his written

estimate on Friday and would send it over the following Monday.

WELL, ARE YOU READY TO START? Larry was delighted to see the estimate come in under $2,000 including the tile, which he felt was low for so much work. He called Cassidy and said, “Let’s do it!” Larry hadn’t thought to check Cassidy’s insurance or contractor registration. He hadn’t received multiple estimates or quotes from multiple contractors. He trusted the recommendation

Solar in MA: What, Why, and When By Andrew Miller

SO MANY QUESTIONS, SO LET’S BREAK IT DOWN TO MAKE SENSE OF ALL THE HUBBUB. What: Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems (aka solar farms; rooftop solar systems) have become increasingly prevalent as seen in various parts of the Commonwealth including along highways and the MassPike. The significant increase of these solar PV systems cannot help but provoke curiosity. What key factor has fueled the growth of the industry? Answer: A solar PV system in MA benefits from two sources of revenues: 1. Proceeds from the sale of power, as would be expected; and 2. The sale of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) earned by virtue of the power produced (1 Megawatt-hour (MWhr) = 1 SREC)* by qualified solar PV systems. The current (second) iteration of the SREC program SREC II has been lucrative, so much so that typically the revenue from SRECs is more than the revenue from the sale of power generated during a production year. The sale of power is either contracted via a power purchase agreement (PPA) or a net metering credit sales agreement

16 • MassLandlords Newsletter

(NMCSAs). Power produced by a solar PV system goes into the power grid and the entity that owns the solar PV system earns net metering credits. The net metering credits can then offset the electric bill. (Analogy: Think of getting, say, a $50 gift card. You can use to help pay for the dinner bill.) Why: The cost of solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems has come down significantly in the last several years. As a result, the economics work in the current incentive environment (i.e., SREC II). Investment in a solar system is usually recouped in 7-10 years and 10 years is the typical term of solar loans in MA. The life of solar systems is typically 30 years and often more. Note: A study commissioned by the Commonwealth determined that solar system ownership is significantly more beneficial than simply buying the power while another/third party owns (TPO) the system. In such a case, the property owner enjoys some of the benefits, but most of the benefits go to the system owner. Caution: Buying power from a solar PV system on your roof but owned by another party (TPO), has a hidden risk which can be significant. You may have trouble getting a mortgage since the TPO will have a lease on at least a portion of your roof.

Avidia Bank can provide high LTV solar financing and at competitive rates and terms. Property owners can get a no obligation estimate of a solar system, cost, and feasibility. When: The SREC II caps had recently been reached, but the state has essentially extended it until the end of 2016. Since many in the industry expect the next incarnation of the SREC program (likely to be dubbed SREC III) expect it to be less lucrative than SREC II, there is a narrow window of opportunity to take advantage of the SREC II extension. If this timing doesn’t work, SREC III is still anticipated to sustain the attractiveness of the solar industry to investors albeit to a lesser degree. Next Steps: If there is interest, a seasoned and well-respected solar developer representative or team can host an information meeting to educate and address questions and concerns. Possible on the spot feasibility check. Once an estimate is determined and an initial financial model is developed, can explore financing with Avidia Bank. Andrew Miller is Commercial Relationship Officer at Avidia Bank. He can be reached at (774) 760-1252 and a.miller@avidiabank.com.


July 2016

PROBLEM TENANT? Call the Landlords’ Lawyer!

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508-796-5096

125 Cambridge Park Drive, Ste. 301, Cambridge, MA 02140 Handling all disputes with your tenants, contractors, and neighbors. Evictions, lease disputes, security deposit, personal injury, and more.

and his gut feel. He didn’t need a written contract. This approach had served Larry well in the past. Cassidy said that in order to schedule a job, Larry would need to send $700 as a pre-payment. Larry mailed a check that morning and waited. The check was cashed but Cassidy didn’t call. Larry waited. And waited. After two weeks of silence, Larry called and left a voicemail. Cassidy still hadn’t told him the start date. Larry called back two weeks after that. Then he called every week for three weeks. One morning in May, Cassidy rang him at 7:30 am. Cassidy apologized and explained that he had injured himself. He would be able to start the work in July. Larry was so relieved to get back in touch that he merely said, “Oh, I’m so sorry you’ve been injured! July is fine!” He never thought to ask what had happened. Cassidy had stubbed his toe. Larry asked Cassidy to schedule the work with the tenants.

RENOVATION DAY ONE Cassidy and his assistant showed up at the job site at 7 am on Monday, July 6. He knocked on the tenants’ door, and one of the tenants answered bleary-eyed and in a bathrobe. They hadn’t received notice of the start date and refused to let Cassidy in just then. Cassidy called Larry. “Didn’t you schedule this with them?” Larry asked, very annoyed. Cassidy said he had left the tenants

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a voicemail before the 4th of July. Larry then realized that he never should have let Cassidy be pointof-contact with his long-term tenants. Cassidy knew nothing about the rental business! After a quick dial and a long apology to the tenants, Larry rescheduled the job for the following week. The tenants had their notice and Cassidy could start work.

RENOVATION DAY ONE, AGAIN The first day of demolition went smoothly. The walls underneath the surround were in excellent shape. There was a problem with the shower faucet being set to the wrong depth for the new tile, but that could be fixed with light plumbing. Cassidy left for the day with the shower area as exposed studs. The tenants had been told to expect no shower for four days. Larry initially thought this was too long, but after consulting with some other landlords over his local message board, he realized that this kind of tile job could take seven to ten days. Four days would be a good outcome. Meanwhile the tenants had arranged to shower at a friend’s apartment.

RENOVATION DAY TWO On day two, Cassidy called Larry early in the morning to apologize. He explained that he had an emergency at another job and couldn’t work on Larry’s place that day. Larry was

very unhappy to hear this, but told Cassidy to do what he had to do. The next day, Larry heard nothing. He called over lunch time to see if Cassidy was back at work. No answer. Cassidy didn’t return to the job site until Friday. The shower had been out of service now for five days, and only one day of labor had been put in. Larry was now furious. All Cassidy said was, “I’m sorry, but this is why we don’t sign contracts with late penalties. Sometimes we have emergencies we can’t control.” Larry talked to the tenants to try to smooth things over. They were understanding but getting concerned.

RENOVATION WEEK TWO Noise from the prior week’s early morning demolition had disturbed the neighbors in the building next door. The City Building Inspector had been notified, and drove to Larry’s building to see the work for himself. The Inspector was as kind as possible to Larry. “I’ve known you for years, Larry, and I know you’re a good landlord, but this is a major bathroom renovation. City code requires me to cite you for not pulling a permit. Think of it this way: if this job is not done to code, the permit helps you to pursue the contractor.” Cassidy took offense and said, “Of course my work will be done to code!” The inspector thanked Cassidy and Larry for their time, said he could get them a permit if they came downtown, MassLandlords Newsletter • 17


July 2016

and was on his way. Larry left the building feeling somewhat queasy. This project was going very badly, and the citation made it far over budget.

RENOVATION WEEK THREE After the permit dispute, Cassidy seemed not to be working very much. He would show up every day, do what looked like a couple hours of cutting and setting, then take off. It was hard for Larry to know. The Tenants would let Cassidy in each morning, and Cassidy would lock himself out each evening. Larry confronted Cassidy about this. Cassidy explained that the job was more difficult than he thought, and he had other jobs with emergency things happening, and he was still hurting from his injury. “This is why I said we only work to estimates,”

he said, rubbing his shoulder. “My shoulder injury is really bad.” By now the tenants had become deeply upset. They had worn out their welcome showering at a friend’s house, and had consulted with a housing attorney about whether they should get reduced rent. The attorney had told them about the state sanitary code. The landlord must provide either a working tub or shower. They had been without both for weeks. There was no end in sight. For the first time in six years, the tenants did not pay Larry August rent.

COST OF A HOTEL Larry was furious at himself for hiring Cassidy without a written agreement. There was nothing he could do except fire Cassidy and bring in another contractor. But the job was so close to

being done! He paid for the tenants to have a room at a nearby motel. “You’ll reimburse me for this hotel cost!” Larry shouted at Cassidy. Cassidy apologized and said he was doing the best he could. “My hand really hurts.” “Your hand?” shouted Larry. “I thought you hurt your shoulder.” “Both!” exclaimed Cassidy. Larry left in a huff.

TYING UP LOOSE ENDS The tile job was finished in midAugust. Larry thanked his lucky stars that the tenants were happy with the quality of the work. He had settled with them for 25% off their August rent. When the bill from Cassidy arrived in the mail, Larry nearly choked to death on his morning bowl of corn flakes. The bill had invoiced for 80 hours of labor, plus materials. The copy of the receipt included what looked to him like a brand new tile saw from Home Depot. It didn’t acknowledge the $700 deposit. Larry called Cassidy’s cell phone, but Cassidy didn’t answer. Larry left a very curt voicemail asking Cassidy to call him back as soon as possible. Larry set the bill to one side of the kitchen table and determined not to pay it. Larry didn’t pay it for many months, but Cassidy never replied to Larry’s calls. Larry decided to send a check in the mail for less than the full amount. He calculated what Cassidy should be paid for the original four days’ work, plus materials, less the tile saw and the deposit, and mailed Cassidy a check and a letter. Larry and the tenants lived happily with their new shower for many years, until one day, Larry decided to sell his property. He discovered that way back in August, Year of the Shower, Cassidy Contractor had placed a lien on his property. But that, my friends, is a tale for another time.

AND THE MORAL OF THIS STORY IS Even good landlords and good contractors can have terrible experiences with one another. Try to get a written agreement that matches the size of the job. Hire only with a warm fuzzy that you’ve thought of all the ways the job can go bad, and that expectations are aligned. Want more tall tales? Tell us: comment@masslandlords.net. ML 18 • MassLandlords Newsletter


July 2016

Lawsuit filed against

rental inspections The Institute for Justice (IJ), a public interest law firm that fights nationwide for constitutional rights, is filing a class-action lawsuit in federal court against the city of Pagedale, Mo., to stop city officials from incessantly ticketing residents for minor and irrelevant things such as high grass, mismatched curtains and sagging pants. The lead plaintiffs in the Pagedale case have received an onslaught of violation tickets from the city for such offenses at their home. When they could not keep up with the repairs and fines, Pagedale

officials threatened to demolish their home of nearly 20 years, while acknowledging that it presented no public safety threat. For those Boston rental property owners who wish a lawsuit would be filed against Boston’s new inspection program, they can rejoice in this lawsuit because the Institute for Justice will, if necessary, take it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a decision would affect the status of rental inspections across the country. Rental inspections are becoming much more common in the U.S.

WHEN THEY COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH THE REPAIRS AND FINES, PAGEDALE OFFICIALS THREATENED TO DEMOLISH THEIR HOME OF NEARLY 20 YEARS, WHILE ACKNOWLEDGING THAT IT PRESENTED NO PUBLIC SAFETY THREAT.

The Institute for Justice found that Pagedale’s reliance on revenue from fines led to “an unprecedented governmental intrusion into the homes of its residents.” Pagedale issued 2,255 citations for these non-safety-related offenses last year, nearly two per household, a 500% increase from five years ago, according to the Institute for Justice. Residents can be fined for a long list of “violations,” such as having a barbecue in the front yard and having a beer within 150 feet of a grill. The goal of the lawsuit is not to receive damages and punish the city, but to stop the city from violating the constitutional rights of the residents. The owners said that each time they fixed one thing on their home, the city inspector would find another reason to fine them and give them more items to fix. The fines have added up to $1,810. One of the owners works nights at a hospital and had to take out a high-interest payday loan. Since the Institute for Justice got involved, the home has been taken off the demolition list, but the city reserves the right to reclassify the house as a nuisance. Another elderly owner received a letter recently from the city demanding that she make more than a dozen improvements to her home, including repainting and having matching curtains. Citizens are complaining that even conditions that are not part of the building code such as cracks in the driveway and an unstained fence are being regulated. Article provided by the Small Property Owners Association.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Join the Community on Facebook Sometimes we need to get the word out quickly and support one another when disaster strikes. By following MassLandlords on Facebook, you give us a chance to build our rental real estate community. Join the conversation today! ML

MassLandlords Newsletter • 19


July 2016

SJC: OK to End Association with Project-Based Vouchers The question of whether landlords could end their association with project-based vouchers after their 40-year mortgage was paid and their contract with HAPHousing expired, was answered this past spring when the SJC ruled in favor of the owners, according to K&L Gates. The Fenway’s Burbank Apartments Tenants Association, along with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and Fenway Community Development Corporation, sued owners William and Robert Kargman when their contract expired with HAP and they decided to go with

tenant-based vouchers instead of project-based ones. According to hud.gov, Project-based vouchers are a part of public housing agencies and are attached to specific units as long as the owner agrees to renovate, build or set aside a certain number for the program. Tenant-based vouchers allow the recipients to search for a unit in the private market. The first hurdle for the plaintiffs was getting the court to hear its case. The SJC agreed to hear the disparate impact arguments, but the burden of proof would be on the plaintiff and would be put to a rigorous litmus test.

The Burbank Apartments website does not list prices. The apartments and interior appeared to be marketed as luxury apartments as of June 27, 2016. 20 • MassLandlords Newsletter

Once the SJC agreed to hear the case, the plaintiffs argued that, “the decision violates state and federal fair housing laws, as it disproportionately impacts racial minorities, the elderly, the disabled and other protected classes, while serving no legitimate business purpose. Federal subsidies would ensure the owners take in the equivalent of market rents, they claim. “The Burbank Apartments owners counter that they’ve played by the rules, winding down involvement in Section 8 by transitioning qualified residents to portable vouchers, and should be allowed to offer their units at market rate,” according to MassLawyersWeekly.com. In the end, the court said the burden of proof by the plaintiffs was not met, and the Kargmans were able to end their association with the HAPHousing voucher program. “Because the Burbank owners had worked to obtain enhanced vouchers for all qualified existing tenants, and had even obtained many more enhanced vouchers for tenants who had not previously been subsidized, the court held that none of the alleged actions of the owners would justify the imposition of disparate impact discrimination liability,” according to the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. ML


REGIONAL

July 2016

CAMBRIDGE

METROWEST

Summary of the June 27 Event Planning Meeting

MetroWest Summer Picnic

MassLandlords and SPOA staff and volunteers met at the new MassLandlords shared office space in Kendall Square to discuss a fall event series. We reviewed the MassLandlords format, meeting food choices, facility space, and possible meeting topics. We then voted on which topics we most wanted to see. There was heavy emphasis on policy, including rent escrow, just cause eviction, and the possible legalization of recreational cannabis. MassLandlords staff have taken the feedback and will coordinate to produce an event in September. Stay tuned for details!

DESCRIPTION Join us in celebrating our 12th year with members of MWPOA and their guests. A complimentary array of foods will be provided. Feel free to bring a homemade dessert. Best dessert will win a prize. Please bring items tenants have left behind for our auction. TUESDAY, JULY 12TH AGENDA

6:30p Food, networking and fun 8:30p End LOCATION “The Pavilion” behind the Moose Lodge 67 Fitchburg St Marlborough, MA 01752 FOOD Dinner will be provided. Bring your own dessert for entry into our contest. PRICING Free for members and immediate family. If your membership shows as lapsed, please prepare to renew!

MassLandlords Newsletter • 21


July 2016

REGIONAL SOUTHERN WORCESTER

WORCESTER

Newsletter and Meetings

Feed a Bee

The Southern Worcester County print newsletter and articles are on vacation until September. Have a great summer! Save the date for the next meeting, Monday, September 12.

Ford’s Hometown Services has partnered with the Bayer CropScience in a major initiative called the “Feed a Bee” program to increase and promote the foraging of honey bees and other pollinators.

SPRINGFIELD

The campaign’s goal is to create a diversity of beeattractant plants by planting 50 million flowers in 2016.

President's Page, July 2016 I would like to remind all our RHAGS members we are off for the summer. Our next dinner meeting will be in September. I have been reading that foreclosures are on the rise again. This is not great news for property owners however it makes for a strong rental market. As RHAGS begins our merger with MassLandlord, we will keep you posted with any information you may need. If you have set your membership to auto-renew, you will need to go onto the website and make the entry again. We apologize for this inconvenience to you. If you wish to contact me for any reason, please use this email address president@rhags.org or call 413-583-8922. Regards, Sheryl

To accomplish this, the “Feed a Bee” initiative will educate consumers about pollinator food shortage. The “Feed a Bee” initiative was designed to help bees not only to be better nourished, but also to thrive. They play a vital role in pollinating many of our fruits, such as nuts, vegetables, apples, almonds etc. This is particularly important as the world population is expected to grow to over 9 billion people requiring 70 percent more food by 2050. Improving honey bee health is crucial, but lack of diverse sources of pollen and nectar is a major obstacle. Ford's Hometown Services would encourage you to stop by our office located at 549 Grove Street Worcester, Ma. to pick up your own free packet of wildflower seed and while you’re here, don’t forget to check out our live inhouse Honey Bee observation hive. Our office hours are Monday – Friday 8 am till 5 pm, Saturdays 8 am until 2 pm. Click the following link to see our Honey Bee’s in action for yourself: https://youtu.be/8nab4R37DLI

Greendale Mall Auctioned after Foreclosure MALL SOLD TO MORTGAGE HOLDER FOR $11.8M After a month’s delay of the auction, the former Simon Mall property known as the Greendale Mall, was sold back to its mortgage holder, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, on June 22 for $11.8M, according to MassLive. The 7 Neponset Rd. property, built in 1987, boasts 21 acres and nearly 310,000 square feet of retail space. Potential buyers said the almost $12M bid was too high to challenge, especially with the necessary updating, according to the Telegram. The buyers who were outbid seem to think it’ll be back for sale soon, say they are still interested in the property. An attorney from Seyfarth Shaw’s Boston office did not give details on its plans for the mall, according to the Boston Business Journal. What do you think the best use of this property would be? Email us at comment@masslandlords.net with your feedback! 22 • MassLandlords Newsletter


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July 2016

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MassLandlords Newsletter July 2016  

The trade association magazine for landlords in Massachusetts.

MassLandlords Newsletter July 2016  

The trade association magazine for landlords in Massachusetts.