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Re: Sealing Evictions bill S.824 and similar

Open Letter to all Legislators in MA

Dear Legislators,

My name is Elmir Simov and I have been a landlord in MA for over 20 years and I own 45 apartments in Central MA. I have been to Housing Court over 50-60 times. I have even represented myself in a 4-day jury trial and won on all claims given to the Jury. I am also the founder and owner of http://www.MassachusettsLandlords.com which is one of most popular landlord blogs in MA with over 2000 unique visits a month.

Landlords need to know who they are letting into their homes. Most landlords live in the house which they rent but even if they don’t we still need to know because we have other tenants to think about plus we want to protect our property from destruction and avoid unnecessary confrontations and going to Housing Court. Ever since I started checking credit and housing court background my visits to Housing Court have substantially decreased, I almost never have to go to Housing court any more.

Landlords need to be able to check credit reports, criminal background, housing court records and income.

CREDIT REPORTS: The current law (which needs to change) says that we cannot charge an application fee to cover our costs to check an applicant’s credit report. Strangely, realtors have no such limiting regulations against them for doing the same activity – trying to rent an apartment. They can charge a fee to check an applicant’s credit report. Because of the number of applicants we get we are effectively precluded from checking credit reports if we have to pay at least $10 per report which is the going rate. Thankfully technology has gotten ahead of our laws and now prospective tenants themselves can check their credit for free online and show it to us.

CRIMINAL BACKGROUND: In MA we are effectively precluded from checking criminal background. The CORI system costs $25 per check and you need to have the DOB and SSN of the applicant. I get about 10-20 inquiries a day which translate into several applications a day. On the applications I don’t ask for the DOB and SSN because who is going to give that information to an unknown internet application plus paying the $25 per application will quickly become unaffordable for me. So Landlords in MA cannot effectively check criminal records. It’s a Russian Roulette who we let into our homes!

HOUSING COURT RECORDS: Before the existence of Masscourts.org we had to go to the nearest Housing Court which for me is 45 min away and get in line to the one computer they had where we can see those records. Who is going to get in their car and do that for every application? So effectively we were precluded from checking housing court records of prospective tenants and had to take their word for it that they had no evictions. Well, you know what – people lie, people lie all the time. They would submit an application answering that they have never been to Housing Court. I go on MassCourts.org and see that there is a judgment against them for let’s say $2000. “I see here that there was a judgment against you for $2000 several years ago. Did you pay it to the landlord?”, “Yes, I did”, “Ok, show me”. Guess what, I never hear from them again.

I know what some tenants and their “advocates” want. They want secrecy, they want the “good old days” and they want no accountability…if possible. No questions or verifying credit, income, criminal or housing court background…if possible.

Dear Legislators, don’t fall for that. I see that the legislators who have signed on to this bill are all Democrats and this bill is trying to blindfold landlords and effectively prevent them from being able to check the eviction history of the prospective tenants which makes me ashamed because I happen to be a Liberal Democrat fully supporting everything Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren stand for, in fact I was a volunteer going house to house for her. I believe in tenants’ rights and I believe in Regulations. Regulating landlords is fine but not to the point of extinction. “Sealing evictions” is not the way to go. Landlords need to check all housing backgrounds. We need the truth and nothing but the truth. Sunshine is the best disinfectant and so we need more information not less!

I read what “tenant advocates” have posted online and I read all of their arguments. They are saying that many people have the same names and there are omissions and legalese in these records that could wrongfully prevent someone from getting into the apartment they want. That may be so but their beef is not with the MA landlords, it’s with the record keeping of the Housing Court in MA. Courts should be required to enter the middle initial if the person has one and to list their address as well. Also Housing Court needs to list the Date of Birth and if that is not an option then at least the Year of Birth. In many cases there is no middle initial and no address and we are left wondering if the applicant is the same person that had that housing court record or not. Surely the solution to that is not to blindfold and cripple the housing providers from being able to see housing court records but what needs to happen is better record keeping. It would be also useful if we can actually click and read the court’s written decision if any or the Mediation Agreement if any. Tenant lawyers are also asking that housing records are only visible for 3 years (knowing fully well that even credit agencies keep derogatory information for 7 years so 3 years is way too short) and no-cause evictions should be hidden and unless there is a judgment all records should be hidden. In other words, let’s go back to the old days of no sunshine and all secrecy. By the way, in my 20 years as a landlord in most cases there is a reason behind a “no-cause” filing and it’s rarely the stated reason that we “want to remodel the apt” or to “allow relatives to move in” or “for us to move in”. The true reason most of the time is some tenant misbehavior but the landlord does not want to confront the tenant so they put down a “no-cause”. Also just because the case never reached a judgment doesn’t mean that the tenant did not have issues that lead to getting to Housing Court in the first place.

So to summarize, I agree with the problems that some prospective tenants cannot find housing and some are denied housing based on faulty data and that minors should not be listed as defendants but we disagree on the solution – the solution is NOT less information but more and better information! That way we can make an informed decision.

Also I agree that rents are extremely high right now in MA especially around Boston. The reason is you don’t have enough housing units. It’s a supply and demand issue. And the reason you don’t have enough apartments in MA is because MA has been on this 30-40 year self-destructive anti-landlord binge. Just ask any person on the street if they want to be a MA landlord and the answer will be “Hell, No!”. Instead of making it easier to be a landlord in MA and rent that room or a basement apartment, there has been a regulation after regulation and a case law after case law to make it harder. A lot of people give up and get out of the market getting burned and that’s why rents are high. Duh!

We have been asking mainly one thing of the Legislature for over 30 years – to pass a mandatory rent escrow law where the tenant is required to put the rent in escrow after they call the Health Board to demonstrate that the call was made in good faith and in the absence of that to not be allowed to use the Health Board report in court and all our efforts have been in vain. Bills die a slow death in Committee each year.

We have been asking for you to re-write and simplify the triple damages Security Deposit law where we can get hit with triple rent payment to the tenant for some nonsense reason like misspelling the address of the bank or not having the words “signed under the pains and penalties of perjury” in our paperwork.

We have been asking you to allow us to charge an application fee just like Realtors are allowed.

But instead of doing all of that the rope around our necks has been tightening and tightening over the past 40 years. It’s one thing after another. Now you want to prevent us from being able to check the Housing Court records or at least make it so hard and so painful (just like the criminal background checking) that we are effectively prevented. I hear talk and clamoring to give each tenant a free lawyer, to bring back rent control and so on and so on. By the way, the reason so many landlords hire a lawyer is not because we want to but because we were recently ordered to find the money to do so by the SJC and Housing Courts with decisions requiring us to hire a lawyer even if we are a single-member LLC.

Don’t you understand that this is exactly why supply is low and rents are high in MA and people are struggling to be able to afford them?