Monday, October 13, 2014

Rental Property Damage Control Tips for Owners in Boston, MA

This article explains a list of tips and examples for property owners and landlords to properly deal with occurrences of damage to the property while avoiding sticky legal situations.

Solutions to Property Damage from Tenants

Owning a property includes a large financial risk and whether investing in a house, apartment or condo it is best to maintain clear expectations upfront about damage.

Obviously a tenant will be screened prior to moving in, but accidents will happen and preventive measures are not always available.

This article will help you handle these situations properly to minimize further risk or additional costs to repair the damage.

Tending to Tenant's Damage Inquiries in Boston

Negligence can be somewhat of a grey area for many who are learning those laws and rights of each party for the first time. According to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Guide To Landlord/Tenant Rights, the tenant is responsible for any damage beyond normal wear and tear, and that includes any damage from guests of the tenant.

A tenant is solely at fault, or negligent, if they are not diligent in preserving the apartment as it was from the date they had moved in, and could lead to some withholding of funds from the tenant's security deposit upon their move-out at the end of their lease agreement, based on the amount of the damage costs.

Examples of what would go beyond the terms of normal wear and tear:
  • Strongly-opened slammed door against the wall (similar to intro picture)
  • Smoking of any kind that causes yellowing of the walls or burn marks on the countertops
  • Strong, stale odors in the unit after a tenant moves out that weren't there prior
  • Spills that cause extensive stains to a carpeted floor
  • A broken window or other unexpected damage
  • A grease fire in the kitchen

Landlord Responsibilities To The Tenant In The Rental Unit

According to the Massachusetts Sanitary Code, a landlord has to make sure that the rental unit is ample enough for a tenant to live a habitable environment before the tenant's scheduled move-in date and throughout the duration of oral or written lease agreement.

This includes:
  • Ice and snow removal from the property grounds
  • Radiators & Heating maintenance
  • Pest control and patching holes from pest burrowing through the wall's basin next to the floor
  • Anything that falls into the home inspection realm (i.e. lead paint or asbestos in the building or within the rental unit)

Examples of Lease Agreement Expectations

    Safety on the Ground Level of the Property

    As written in our article, preparing a Boston property for the winter weather, there will be instances in which snow, ice, or even debris (like a fallen tree, pieces of an exploded tire, or roadkill if you live next to a main road) will come up on the property grounds.

    It is your duty as the landlord or property manager to have these things all cleared out, making it safe and habitable on the property grounds outside as well as the inside.

    Plumbing Problems

    Just like a relationship with your tenants, dealing with the rental unit or building's plumbing and water can be a work in progress. By law and theory, landlords must repair the pipes and plumbing in a rental unit and maintain them in good condition due to the lease requiring it and the "implied warranty of habitability."

    Plumbing Issues a Landlord Must Tend to When Notified:
    • Leaks - Whether it is coming from the ceiling, hot water heater in the basement, or a sink faucet that may cause a flood. The only thing that a landlord or property owners may not have to send out a service crew for right away is a recurring drip sound that keeps you up all night. 
    • Mildew - This bacterial substance on the walls is more than just dark, ugly spots where moisture is absorbed into the walls. It is hazardous, and can lead to fines from The Department of Home Inspection.
    • Lack of hot water from local construction sites -  In these cases, you must be notified by the city's Public Utilities with a written letter a few weeks in advance telling you the date of when your hot water will be temporarily shut off. This is out of the landlord's control, but bath accordingly to the time frame in those scheduled dates as the landlord should offer alternatives for their affected tenants. 

    Legal Cases for Landlords Dealing with Tenant Damage

    Diligence is a two-way street for damage control by both the landlord and tenant to prevent damage from happening.

    Some situations are beyond the tenant and landlord's control to be deemed liable for damages like the following:
    • Burglary in the building or rental unit
    • Pests burrowing in the wall
    • Termites depleting the strength of a wooden structure
    • Natural disasters like an earthquake breaking windows, or a hurricane that causes a flood if the tenant's unit is on the ground floor of the building

    Massachusetts Renters Law - Who Should Throw the Book?

    Most disputes between the landlord versus the tenants come from disagreement about the tenant's security deposit during the move-out process at the end of the lease. Or evictions can obviously cause a major rift between the landlord and their tenant.

    So who the judge should throw the book if a landlord versus renters dispute ends up being settled in a small claims court

    The Massachusetts law says that a landlord can exercise their rights on the tenant's damage to the unit or property, and to keep you and your tenants on good terms here are some suggestions
    • For the screening process of a tenant upon a rental application, make sure that you not only check the tenant's credit but also their rental history and research via other landlord references.
    • In cases such as evictions due to lack of monthly rent payments, the tenants may be in retaliation mode to spite the situation. The security deposits can be used to account for what the tenant owes the landlord in past-due rental fees. 
    • If there is a damage bill in the apartment worthy of the landlord either keeping the security deposit, or cutting into the original amount to account for the damage costs to the property if it is lesser than the entire amount of the security deposit. 
    • Document everything officially on paper regarding the damage (record it on video too), give them a copy of the damage bill, and the payment so that the tenant knows what the cost is. This is so you and your tenant have a mutual understanding of the situation
    • Cut your losses by offering the tenants cash to move out. By Massachusetts law, you must give a tenant 2 months notice they you will not be renewing their lease. If they are behind in their rent, or have had multiple occurrences destroying your property, than offer the tenant walking papers if there is still some time before the end of your lease.

    Final Thoughts on Boston Property Owners vs. Tenant Rights

    Have you had to deal with tenants that make life miserable or harder for you as a landlord or Boston Property Management Company? What are your experiences in handling tenant damage? Tell us your thoughts and other suggested solutions if you can beyond what we have listed.