Just when I thought I had seen it all, life has a way of reminding you that you know nothing.
Slap across the face!
One of my elderly tenants died.
Naturally, no one told me about it.
By chance, several weeks after she died I knocked on the door and a stranger opens it halfway. She looked and sounded to me like a typical crackhead. Someone whom she introduced as her “son” also came out. They were confrontational and loud. The woman, who appeared to me to be in her 50s or 60s explained to me that she was a relative of my dead tenant and now the apartment is hers, she lives there. She gave me her name and explained to me that before this she was living several months at one of her son’s place “babysitting” and then at the other son’s place also “babysitting”. (Translation – she was homeless). She also explained to me that the dead tenant had invited her to stay several months before she died so that the relative could take care of my tenant after my tenant’s surgeries but now after the tenant died she will stay in the apartment. “I need a month” she said. When I pushed back and said that she can’t stay there because she is not a tenant and that she doesn’t need more than several weeks for everything to be moved out of this 1-bedroom apartment she said “Go ahead evict me”.
I wasn’t born yesterday so I knew her promise to leave in a month was meaningless. I served her a Notice to Quit the next day. By the way, I also received reports from other tenants in the building that human “traffic” had substantially increased to and from that apartment ever since my tenant died and there were loud and constant fights and arguing coming from that apartment. In other words, more likely than not we are dealing here with drugs. Plus in Housing Court she already had 2-3 records.
Well, you say, you have a squatter situation on your hands. A homeless relative, possibly a drug user, is holding your property hostage. It should be easy to get rid of a squatter who is not on your Lease and to reclaim your property, right?
Well, not in MA.
First, I called the police. They did not show any interest to investigate the circumstances of my tenant’s death and to make sure she wasn’t stuffed in a closet somewhere. When I told them I have a person in the apartment that I have never seen before, not on the Lease, not ever approved by me to be living there, they said that the moment a tenant invites someone they become a tenant and, besides, if she has been getting mail there she is a tenant.
To me the matter should be simple in cases where there is a written Agreement – are you on the Agreement/Lease or not, show me the Lease, and if you are not on the Lease then show me a written permission by the landlord to live there. If not, then the landlord can change the locks.
Police officer told me they don’t show up in cases like these. “It’s a Housing Court matter”, she said.
So I asked her then “Ok, when a landlord calls saying I have an unknown squatter, help me, you don’t show up, you refer them to Housing Court. But if someone calls you after, let’s say, the landlord changes the locks to reclaim his property, do you show up? “Yes, we do show up. Don’t change the locks. They are legal occupants and they have a right to change the locks back and if they break your door we will not charge them.”
No double standard there. Nothing to see. Move on.
Not that I had any inclination to change the locks. I just wanted to check a theory of mine regarding the police.
My Theory of Relativity based on who called the Police was confirmed!
Here it goes: “If landlords’ rights are violated, it’s “go to Housing Court”. But in all other cases, the police is there to dispense free legal advice and look the other way if crimes are committed like breaking a door. If a landlord calls then it’s up to Housing Court to determine who is a legal occupant. In all other cases, it’s up to the police.”
Over the past 10 or so years a previously fringe legal theory has become mainstream now. The theory goes as follows: not only landlords can pick tenants but also tenants can pick tenants. Somehow that makes sense to some lawyers, legislators and judges in MA. I think it all comes from the goody-two-shoe desire to help “the helpless”. There is nothing wrong with helping people except that this “legal” theory is just insane.
Repeat after me: ONLY LANDLORDS CAN CHOOSE TENANTS. TENANTS CANNOT CHOOSE TENANTS. Why, you ask? Because…they are not the owners of the land and the property. Plus the landlord has a safety obligation to other properly approved tenants in the building. It’s amazing that we are at the point where I have to really spell it out.
According to this legal theory any tenant can invite anyone off the street to come live with them and they become tenant #2. Then #2 can invite other junkies off the street and they become tenants #3, #4 and #5 and so on and so on…The landlord has no say in the matter. To hell with checking credit, housing and criminal history and to hell with the safely of other tenants in the building…And to hell with property owner’s rights!
In the end, I served the 7-day Notice to Quit on 10-3-22, served the SP on 10-14-22, mediator was scheduled for 11-8-22 (about 3.5 weeks after the SP was served) and a Hearing with a Judge was to be scheduled about a month after that. So in Central Court which appears to be the best managed of all the Housing Courts in MA, it takes about 2 months to reach a judge AFTER you have served the Summary Process (Eviction) form. In most cases it takes about a month BEFORE you are able to serve the Summary Process Form because you have to wait 30 days for a 30-day Notice to Quit.
So from the moment you notice that a tenant is defaulting on a Lease Clause or not paying rent it takes you about 3 months to reach a housing court judge in MA just for a FIRST hearing and that is in the best case scenario. I am not even talking how long it takes to actually evict after the first hearing. In most cases just to reach a judge for a first hearing you have to wait over 3 months with the average I believe being around 5 months.
That’s not acceptable.
Of course, I hear crickets on this topic from the Landlord associations in MA.
It needs to be 3 weeks or less because time is of the essence in Summary Process (Eviction) cases because so to speak “the crime” was not a one event at some point in the past but instead is ongoing. Every day of unpaid rent or the other tenants being bothered by a clause violation is an ongoing injury to the landlord and the other tenants.
And we all know in MA if you make less than about $45,000/year you don’t have to pay back any of the rent you have stolen regardless of how much the court determined you owe back. So the only real recourse we have in MA is the eviction. We all know that a paper monetary judgment in landlord’s favor in most cases is worth less than toilet paper because it’s unenforced and unenforceable. And now post-Covid we can’t even evict within a reasonable timeframe. And then they wonder why it became so hard to find apartments for rent and why they are so expensive.
With the new Democratic Governor, they will be able to pass anything anti-landlord they want. No more Governor’s veto like last year. And the scariest part is there is no pushback on these important issues from the landlord community especially MassLandlords, the largest landlord association in MA. Over the past 10 years under their leadership things have not improved, in fact they have dramatically worsened because the current executive director seems to be afraid of how they would look and how they would be perceived if they pushed back.