Friday, February 26, 2016

A Guide to Tenant Privacy in Boston, MA

This article is a brief description of tenant vs. landlord rights and the importance of honoring tenant privacy upon entering a rental unit.

Best Practices for Tenant Privacy and Communication in Boston

Landlords and property managers have to deal with multiple tenants for their rental unit work orders and repairs on a daily basis.

Sometimes landlords feel the need to check on multiple units to make sure all units are running smoothly. Although they may be exposing their ardent nature as a landlord, this helicopter approach could be a breach of privacy.

It's imperative for a landlord or property manager to have effective communication methods or technology installed for tenants to place work orders. If you don't have this installed, this could leave a wide margin of error for when the tenant is expecting you to arrive at their rental unit.

Whether they are dealing with the landlord, or property management company on behalf of the landlord, showing up to a unit unexpectedly can be problematic for the landlord.

Respecting the Tenant's Privacy Is The Key To a Successful Investment

You would be surprised at the percentages of tenants and landlords who don't have a clue about the Massachusetts state laws about Tenant vs. Landlords Rights. Not knowing their rights could be the cause of much acrimony and insincerity felt in tenant-to-landlord relationships.

Details about Tenant Privacy in Boston

Possession of a master key does not give the property management team staff members, nor the landlord, the right to walk into an apartment without notice. Review this list of examples and facts about tenant privacy to mitigate the risk of increasing legal drama from the lack of communication between the property owner and the renter:

  • Tenants should screen the property manager/landlord, and vice versa. This is an important first step for tenants know how a landlord and their property management team members are for arriving and handling work orders for their rental units. As they are researching the tenant in a background check through former residences, tenants can use software programs to review the history of property management companies and landlords.

  • Learn about the state laws on tenant privacy.  Many states have laws limiting landlords access rental privacy. As a tenant or landlord, it is your personal responsibility to learn about the Mass. state laws in the event of a dispute. The more knowledge you have about the permissible and impermissible reasons for landlord entry, as well as the required amount of notice, the more prepared you will be when enforcing your privacy rights.

  • Never sign a lease with a tenant privacy waiver. A diligent tenant and a responsible property manager or landlord will always look for the inclusion of this important waiver in a lease. For example, if a landlord walks in on a tenant to carry out a work order request, but the tenant is not ready for the appointment in their rental unit due to lack of communication, then there will be guaranteed confusion and frustration between the tenant and landlord. Most state laws require at least 48 hours of notice to the tenant about the landlord or property management team's arrival time. Tenants should expect the landlords to only show up during their business hours that corresponds with the office hours of the property management office. If a landlord shows up with less than one day's notice, is not good for the reputation of the property.

  • Notify the property owner about any negligence of the property staff.  The property owner or landlord mord may not know what his or her manager is doing unless you speak up. There are cases of property staff who come into the rental units unannounced.  Every tenant has the right to respect and consideration when entering their personal space. Supers, landlords, maintenance workers, or property managers are never allowed to simply walk in and scare their tenants of their unit. All tenants have a right to feel safe and secure in their home.

  • Always put everything in writing when you deal with your tenant and landlord. Whether it be via email, SMS text,  printed, hand-delivered, or handwritten correspondence, it is essential to have all complaints and requests recorded between landlords and tenants. That way, you both know what you signed up for going into this business relationship.

  • Review tenant rights listed in the Move-In Checklist, together. All landlords are require to hand a tenant a move-in guide at the beginning of their signed lease term. This should give the tenant information about renters insurance (or flood insurance, if they are moving into a ground floor unit), garbage pick-up days, and detailed information about their tenant privacy rights.

  • Remember to communicate about extended vacations. If a tenant has been in seclusion or has left their unit for a long time without notice, then some states give landlords the right to enter if they discover the tenant is not around. Landlords are encouraged to include some guidelines in the lease to avoid an unauthorized entry, asking tenants to alert management of a vacation so necessary repair can continue uninhibited. Tenants who leave to paradise in the winter, remember to turn off the heat in winter, drain the pipes, and secure the windows. 

  • Rent payments cannot be withheld after an unauthorized entry from landlord. This only makes legal drama steamroll more than it should. Court orders can be very time-consuming and can throw a monkey wrench in the tenant-landlord relationship. Property managers have long memories about their tenants in their units, so you don't want to initiate a legal fracas over a minor lack of miscommunication that can be easily resolved. 

  • Tenants can only change doorlocks with the landlord's consent. Mysteriously changed locks often prevent work orders from being done. Property managers differ greatly in their rules about changing locks on the unit, but it could be as simple as handing over the new key.

Final Thoughts on Tenant Privacy

It's a two-way street between the tenant and landlord: The landlord has to show respect to the tenant at all times, and vice versa, regardless if their previous dealings were extremely negative.

Have you ever been pushed so far to the point where you feel like you have no privacy in your rental unit? If you are a property owner, have you ever dealt with a tenant who lived unsatisfactorily for you to keep in your unit, and want to evict them immediately? Tell us your thoughts.