Massachusetts Landlords: Be Aware Of “The Professional Tenant”

by Rich Vetstein on February 19, 2012 · 3 comments

in Landlord Tenant Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Real Estate Litigation

Avoid The Professional Tenant Like The Plague

Using best practices to screen and select good tenants is the most important thing a Massachusetts landlord can do to avoid costly non-payment and eviction problems down the road, as I have posted about on this Blog. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In my 14 years of practice, I have come across a sub-set of tenants which are extremely dangerous to Massachusetts landlords. They should be avoided like the Plague. I like to call them Professional Tenants.

Let me give you the profile of a typical Professional Tenant. (This is a generalization based on my personal experience, but it’s fairly accurate).

  • History of eviction history and/or delinquency with prior landlords
  • Surprising (and dangerous) knowledge of Massachusetts landlord-tenant law
  • Background in real estate, engineering, contracting
  • Marginal to bad credit: prior history of nonpayment collections, judgments or bankruptcies
  • Gaps in rental history
  • Non-existent or incomplete prior landlord references

The Professional Tenant’s Scheme

Shortly after moving in, they will start to complain about small issues with the rental property. Some will complain to the local board of health to have the landlord cited for code violations. (The state Sanitary Code can trip up even the most conscientious landlord.) Then the Professional Tenant will stop paying rent, claiming they are “withholding rent” due to bad property conditions. Of course, these tenants completely ignore the smart practice that any withheld rent be placed in an escrow account. Then the Professional Tenant will assert the landlord violated the last month rent and security deposit law, and ask for their deposit back, trying to set up the landlord for a triple damage claim.

In the meantime, months go by and the Professional Tenant has failed to pay any rent and the minor code violations, if any, are repaired. The landlord is forced to start eviction proceedings, only to be met with a slew of counterclaims and defenses from the Professional Tenant. The Professional Tenant then sends the landlord a myriad of document requests and interrogatories which automatically delays the eviction hearing by 2 weeks. If the Professional Tenant is really savvy, they will demand a jury trial, which in most small District Courts can delay the eviction by weeks and typically months. Meanwhile, the entire time, the Professional Tenant has still not paid any rent.

Months and thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees later, the landlord finally gets his day in court. And the Professional Tenant doesn’t show up, leaving the landlord with a worthless judgment for thousands in unpaid rent and a trashed apartment.

Screen and Screen Again

The sad thing is that because Massachusetts landlord-tenant law is so tenant friendly, there is not much a landlord can do to avoid this situation, other than not rent to the Professional Tenant in the first place! Once a landlord has signed a lease with a Professional Tenant, they are stuck until the tenant violates the lease. My advice to landlords is to make screening the most important thing you do as a landlord, and do the following:

  • Invest in good credit history checks.
  • Follow up with landlord references
  • Check employment info
  • Check prior bankruptcies
  • If someone seems fishy, they probably are

If you find yourself stuck with a Professional Tenant, give me a call. There are certain things an experienced eviction attorney can do to prevent or minimize these shenanigans. At least you will be fighting back against what I perceive as scam artists.

_______________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts landlord tenant and eviction attorney. Please contact him with any questions.

  • Professional Tenant

    “Of course, these tenants completely ignore the law’s requirement that
    any withheld rent be placed in an escrow account.” — You are 100%
    misstating the law. There is no legal requirement in Massachusetts that
    a tenant place withheld rent into an escrow account, although it is
    highly suggested that they do so in order to protect themselves.

    Also, why is a tenant that asserts their legal rights in a rental
    property with conditions a “scam artist” while the landlord who fails to
    repair code violations is some poor victim? I would say that a
    landlord who is receiving full rental payments while the tenant lives in
    substandard conditions is the scam artist. The reason why rent
    withholding is permitted under the law is because the bargained for
    value of the rental property has been reduced by the existence of bad
    conditions. If landlords would just maintain and repair their rental
    properties, then tenants would never have a reason to withhold! Your
    blog post neglects to mention that little fact.

    You also neglect to mention the reason why Massachusetts has so many
    legal protections in place for tenants: because the power differential
    between landlords and tenants is already unconscionable on its face!
    Would you prefer that it be like the “good ole days” where landlords can
    just lock tenants out when they feel like it? I bet not, because that
    would put you out of job, wouldn’t it?

    And to the woman who is crying above about being a “low-income landlord”
    who is getting stuck with the cost of bringing a summary process case .
    . . There is no one holding a gun to your head forcing you to be a
    landlord. Being a landlord is a JOB and it’s one that requires you to
    understand LL/T law. If you can’t do the job, then you should quit and
    find a new profession. It’s just that simple.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656997244 Maureen Tara Regan

      Right on Brother!!

    • Professional Landlord

      You definitely are the Professional Tenant! I pitty your landlord!

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