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Landlord-tenant hell: how to tread when there is lead

Posted by Rona Fischman  July 2, 2008 12:47 PM

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A young professional couple rented an apartment recently. It was in a two-family house in or near Boston. The landlords were long-time local residents who need their rental income to make ends meet. The tenants earned 6-figures. The landlords verified the tenants’ income and checked their references, as a good landlord should. Then tenants moved in. Everyone was happy.

A few weeks later, the tenants informed the landlords that they were expecting, due five months from that day. This means the landlords will be obligated to make the apartment lead-safe.

This story has a happy ending. Because the landlords where moderate income homeowners, they benefited from a program which did the de-leading for free. Not all landlords will be so lucky.

Discrimination against families with young children is widespread. It is illegal, but it happens frequently. There are landlords who require that their tenants sign a statement that they will not bring children to live in the apartment (this is not legal, but is common practice.) Many landlords do not proffer this form, which they are required to do.

Was this couple wrong to withhold this information? In an atmosphere where couples with children have a hard time finding an apartment, were they just being prudent? They were not legally obligated to tell the prospective landlords; were they morally obligated? These are the lead paint questions of the week!

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38 comments so far...
  1. I don't think they were obligated to tell the landlord - after all, if they'd told him in advance there is a good chance he could have found some other reason not to rent to them. Until we are in a world where all landlords always do the right thing, then I don't think there is a moral obligation on anyone.

    On the other hand, I found myself in a somewhat similar position when I became pregnant with my first child - renting half of a 2-family from a landlord whose sole income was from our rent (he was retired). We had been in the apartment several years, and I felt terrible going to him and asking that he get the place tested for lead. As it turned out, no work was required so I guess it all worked out, but I would have felt terribly guilty if he'd had to have thousands of dollars of work done for us.

    Posted by nar July 2, 08 01:31 PM
  1. I cannot think of a reason why they should have told him. Yes, I understand that it would have been kind and thoughtful of them to put him on advance notice that he may be liable for several thousands of dollars in mitigation, but the likely outcome would have been akin to telling him that they had a Section 8 voucher but could pay the difference.

    Posted by MWest July 2, 08 02:35 PM
  1. "Until we are in a world where all landlords always do the right thing, then I don't think there is a moral obligation on anyone."

    Let's flip that for a minute: Until we are in a world where all prospective tenants always do the right thing - in this case tell the landlord they are pregnant - then I don't think there is a moral obligation to rent to young couples they suspect might have children in the near future.

    It's a nice road to be on, don't you think, where we've stripped away everyone's moral obligations to each other?

    Posted by accidental landlord July 2, 08 02:42 PM
  1. I don't know. legally, they were obviously in their rights. Morally? They intentionally withheld information that they knew would cost the landlord 1000s (they didn't know the landlord would get assistance). Since the couple would probably not want to be in the landlord's shoes in that particular situation, I think that makes them morally wrong.

    Posted by buyerandseller July 2, 08 03:31 PM
  1. I don't think anyone should feel bad for landlords...if you rent from them, they already better off then you are! And if its theor only income, ohh well, dont you wish you could not work at all and have income???

    Posted by aleksis July 2, 08 04:13 PM
  1. The owner should have planned ahead. If you have a rental unit that is more than one bedroom, you should expect kids. Be RESPONSIBLE!!

    Realtor- Salem, MA

    Posted by Jeff July 2, 08 04:47 PM
  1. leksis

    go back and read the story.

    Posted by buyerandseller July 2, 08 05:16 PM
  1. Why are you morally obligated to tell a landlord that you are planning on having children?? It's illegal for the landlord to even ask you about this or about the ages of your children. That did not stop a single Realtor from asking me for this information in my recent apartment search. Several refused to show me places that were not deleaded, which is unquestionably illegal. Obviously these Realtors knew and understood the law and were just hoping that the prospective tenants did not. Now that is what I would call morally wrong.

    Landlords who live in one unit of a two-family and rent the other are allowed to discriminate based on the ages of your children. Otherwise, they cannot even ask you for this information.

    Posted by Nemo July 2, 08 05:20 PM
  1. As a tenant to a slummy absentee landlord, who is considering a multi-family purchase of her own, I've found these entries about lead paint incredibly interesting (and useful to know if my husband and I go the MFR route). In fact, I almost bid on a MFR that was built in the 1860s so I am sure there was lead up the wazooo.

    That being said, I have a hard time feeling poorly for landlords. It is the cost of doing business. Period. If you can't handle repairs or lead mitigation, don't look to make a living/extra income on being a landlord. Know the laws and regulations. Or look for a certified lead free investment property. And expect to pay more for it. Too many landlords act as if its their "right" to buy property, rent it, not keep it up, and continually flout the building codes/health codes on the books until Inspectional Services goes after them. For example, I waited 6 MONTHS before I called the inspectors on my landlord. Offenses included a broken and constantly beeping fire alarm, a door knob falling off the front door, a 2 inch gap around the bottom of the back exterior door. If expecting a working fire alarm, a secure doorknob so that the place is secure, and the heat I'm paying for not to go out the door (literally) makes me a difficult tenant, well, good. The Inspectors found him to be scummy (told us so) and found several other electrical and other violations that he was forced to clean up as well.

    As potential buyers, my husband and I took the older condition of the property we were viewing and ultimately decided not to purchase it due to lead paint, etc. Granted, we can buy more house if we buy a multi-family and rent out half...but, there is a time factor to consider too. If you choose to be a landlord you must take these items into account and budget for them, just as anyone who is considering purchasing property must do.

    At any rate, I hope people casually considering becoming landlords seriously think about it and their obligations before assuming it is easy money to get someone to pay your mortgage in full or part and go forward.

    That being said, if someone tries to sell their place and can't, and then is forced to rent it out to make ends meet, I have a little more sympathy. If I was expecting, I would have tried to locate a lead free unit first off, but if I couldn't, I wouldn't disclose that information either.

    Posted by A.B-G. July 2, 08 05:28 PM
  1. "Landlords who live in one unit of a two-family and rent the other are allowed to discriminate based on the ages of your children. Otherwise, they cannot even ask you for this information."

    If this statement is true, then I think it makes the renters even more MORALLY obligated to tell the landlord.

    "That being said, if someone tries to sell their place and can't, and then is forced to rent it out to make ends meet, I have a little more sympathy. If I was expecting, I would have tried to locate a lead free unit first off, but if I couldn't, I wouldn't disclose that information either."

    Again, people read the story. this was a limited income landlord that was probably bought the place in order to have rent to help with the mortgage. The people with the money were the renters (at least that was the general sense). Long-term residents implies that the landlords were also older, which means they might not have been in a position to work. What if they hadn't qualified for assistance? They could have lost their home.

    Again, were the renters legally oblgated? No, but they certainly didn't raise the bar on ethical behavior.

    Posted by buyerandseller July 2, 08 05:45 PM
  1. It may be illegal to refuse apartments to families with young children, but it's hardly "discrimination"--not in the common sense. Calling it "discrimination" merely allows families to tart themselves up in the language of segregated lunch counters and civil rights marches, because it makes for better PR.

    Discrimination in the common sense is rooted in prejudice--pre-judging people for irrational reasons, merely because of their membership in a group. For example, it's rightfully illegal to refuse housing to an applicant merely because they belong to an ethnic or religious minority. If you do, you are assuming that an individual is more likely to be, say, a deadbeat simply because they're a member of a group that you happen to think is more unreliable. That kind of judgment is not just bad morality, it's bad statistics, too. Just because most 90 year olds are women doesn't mean that the 90 year old man sitting in front of you is a woman. It's irrational.

    However, it's not irrational to fear that a family with children will cost you tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of dollars in deleading if you own an old apartment. It's a fact. A 100% certainty.

    That's not "discrimination." That's simply a desire not to go broke.

    Posted by Marcus July 2, 08 06:29 PM
  1. landlords should take this financially into account. And do. Which is why there are so few rental apartments suitable for small children around.

    Some of the sentiment out there seems to think that landlords have a moral obligation to lose money. An interesting financial perspective, which will certainly result in fewer rental apartments...

    And those who think being a landlord is not work, should try it sometime. As I think accidental landlord has discovered accidentally (not that I have any idea how they felt before) it is most certainly work. And we tend to think people who invest money should be allowed to make some return. Unless they are a landlord.

    I wonder if those complaining about landlords are anxious to not be paid for their work? Or have their savings earn no interest? There is absolutely no difference...

    Which is not to say all landlords are saints, or that there shouldn't be reasonable protective laws. As a tenant myself, I'm in favor of that. Landlords should not be allowed to steal from, or abuse, tenants. And vice versa, tenants should not be allowed to steal from, or abuse, landlords. Which is currently the case in Mass. As a lawyer, I know how to rob my landlord blind legally if I wanted to. But it would be completely un-ethical, and I'm not going to do that.

    Laws that make landlording a suckers game are bad for tenants as well.

    Posted by charles July 2, 08 06:44 PM
  1. You mentioned that some landlords have tenants sign lead paint waivers. I ran into that with a buyer, and called the state to see about the legality of waivers. I was told that not only were waivers useless as far as absolving landlords of responsibility, since even parents cannot wait their child's right to live in a lead-free environment, but the waivers ensured that if the case every came to court, it would be a "slam-dunk" win for the prosecution, since the waivers prove that the landlord knew about the lead paint danger and exposed the child anyway.

    Another thing: You can only rent to section 8 tenants, of any age, if the apartment is deleaded. So this group must really have a hard time finding houseing, as there are precious few deleaded apartments around.

    Posted by Mary July 2, 08 08:10 PM
  1. Charles and Marcus,

    Your positions seem to suggest that is preferable to maintain a reduced supply of de-leaded apartments for the benefit of rental market as a whole. Is this fair?

    I think it is reasonable to expect the older housing stock in Boston to have lead. That means explicitly that a current landlord made a conscious effort to ignore the presence of lead when s/he purchased the property by signing the "lead form". If that landlord then will not rent to families with children because s/he does not want to pay for lead abatement, then that landlord ignored a health risk for his/her own benefit and at the cost of the families with children. This is constructive fraud. (Assuming that de-leaded apartments rent for premiums or the family incurs a cost in excess of normal market rents for leaded apartments.)

    There are only painful solutions to the lead issue, but landlords that purchased units after it was known that lead is bad for kids knowingly took on a risk. Unfortunately, they did not price that risk into the cost of the unit and now that risk has come due.

    Posted by WSJevons July 2, 08 09:06 PM
  1. "If this statement is true, then I think it makes the renters even more MORALLY obligated to tell the landlord."

    Here's a wild and crazy notion for you, buyerandseller: If you aren't willing to accept the legal obligations of being a landlord, DON'T BECOME ONE.

    I won't even ask how you imagine that prospective tenants are morally obligated to make end runs around the law for landlords' benefit.

    Posted by justsaynotolandlordwhining July 2, 08 09:13 PM
  1. Marcus,

    When an adult has a history of being a good tenant, but can no longer find an apartment because he or she now has a child, that is discrimination. You have a point, if parents claimed oppression. That would be over-inflating their plight.

    Discrimination is defined as: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.

    Not only racial and ethnic minorities face housing discrimination. Gays/lesbians, unmarried couples, veterans (especially when Vietnam vets were saddled with the perception that they all had PTSD and were out-of-control,) people who pay with Section 8 vouchers, and others. These people are labeled as part of a group and not taken on their individual merit. That is discrimination.

    When a tenant has been a good, bill-paying, considerate, building-respectful occupant, but the landlord only sees the lead liability, the landlord is discriminating. Parents don’t suddenly become bad tenants because they have children. There is an economic incentive to discriminate against parents, but that doesn’t negate that discrimination is occurring.

    Back to the couple who did not disclose their pregnancy. Should people hide the fact that they belong to a group of people who face discrimination, or should they hope the landlord doesn’t notice?
    That is the question of the hour.

    Posted by Rona July 2, 08 09:30 PM
  1. WSJevons, you seem to be telling other people what they are really saying, and really doing. Let me relieve you of the burden by telling you myself what I am saying.

    Fixing lead paint is expensive. That makes landlording financially unattractive. Grand gesticulations, tinfoil legal theorizing and hifalutin speechifying do not change the spreadsheets. The cost will be borne by someone. By necessity, that will ultimately be renters.

    Rona, your response is simply wrong. In any old house, parents may not become bad tenants because they have children, but they certainly become unprofitable tenants. All of them. Each and every one. No one is making any generalizations or assumptions here. They are all walking money pits.

    Posted by Marcus July 2, 08 10:09 PM
  1. Rona, Discrimination is not illegal. Illegal discrimination is illegal. It might seem a fine point, but would you discriminate against a buyer who wanted you to do illegal things? I imagine yes.

    Illegal discrimination is discriminating for reasons we as a society find unjustifiable.

    Discriminating against People with Children is illegal discrimination. However, Parents really do become bad tenants when they have children. And that is why landlords discriminate against them in practice, though certain methods of doing so are illegal. A bad tenant is one who loses the landlord money. Which paying for de-leading will most certainly do.

    It is not illegal to only rent expensive one bedroom apartments though. And it is unlikely those will be occupied by parents with children. Thus creating an incentive to rent only that sort of apartment.

    WSJevons - "Your positions seem to suggest that is preferable to maintain a reduced supply of de-leaded apartments for the benefit of rental market as a whole. Is this fair?" I'm not sure I understand the question, so please re-state if I misinterpret.

    I don't see lead paint as a big deal. I do see lead in the water as such, but that's perfectly legal. I think causing a noticeable problem to solve a non problem is poor public policy. The way massachusetts has chosen to solve the lead paint problem does not seem to be particularly productive. Classic Massachusetts regulation - sounds good, feels good, doesn't really make a meaningful difference to the problem.

    Look at the stats on lead paint. Problems with it do not correlate with lead paint presence, they correlate with quality of parenting. We all grew up in houses with lead paint...

    If massachusetts wants to remove lead paint (removal may arguably cause more problems - I'd personally rather raise a kid in an apartment with lead paint then an an apartment de-leaded by some methods) it would be better served by providing funding rather than penalizing landlords.

    Posted by charles July 3, 08 12:43 AM
  1. We are tenant at will renters in a two family home in Arlington. We have lived in the property for nearly three years and since my husband is handy, we have made many improvements that have benefited our landlord. He has often told us that we are the best tentants he has ever had. Still, when we became pregnant he suddenly raised the rent an additional $500 per month.

    I don't know many folks who can swallow a sudden rent hike that high. This is obviously discrimination, but it is within his rights to charge us whatever rent he chooses. The lead law is supposed to protect my child but instead of focusing my attention on my newborn, our household is in turmoil as we pack and search for a new home.

    Interestingly enough, most of the homes for sale in Arlington and beyond also have lead paint. But there is no law that forces us as homeowners to remove it for the health of our child.

    I've been told by real estate agents that as long as the lead paint is well maintained and you keep your children from gnawing on the window sills, our baby should be fine. In fact, many local folks grew up in lead homes themselves.

    Assuming this is true, my baby is most probably going to be living in a lead home either way. So essentially, our family is being forced out of our home for nothing.

    The lead laws hurt more than they help.

    Posted by Liana Leahy July 3, 08 10:23 AM
  1. I believe that the actions by the tenants are reprehensible. Negotiations are always based on the good faith of both parties. They demonstrated in a few weeks their real intentions, potentially ruining the landlords. Would respondents feel the same if suddenly there were more people living there than allowed by habitability code? Or if the tenants ruined the apartment by negligence? Also, even with the fortunate occurrence that the remediation was covered due to the landlord's low income, I would believe that the landlord/tenant relationship is irrepairably harmed. I wouldn't renew their lease because they have demonstrated they are not trustworthy.

    Posted by Walthamolian July 3, 08 10:24 AM
  1. My wife and I moved into our Beacon Hill apartment 4 years ago. We have have been good tenants and our landlady has been a good landlady. Until we had our first baby. Suddenly she started became paranoid about allowing a baby on the (very safe, up to code) roofdeck. Suddenly the gas grill (which we purchased from the previous tenant, so it had been there for at least 6 years) was not allowed.

    Nor was she willing to spend a few hundred dollars to have lead encapsulant paint painted over the few pieces of molding that still contained lead. (The rest of the walls and the windows were replaced in the 70's so they don't have lead). I think she was afraid this would amount to an admission of the presence of lead.

    So instead I painted the lead encapsulant myself. This whole story illustrates how perverse the system is. Because she is afraid of spending a few grand replacing a couple pieces of molding around the fireplace (we're talking a month's rent here), the landlady has almost driven out a good tenant, and strained our relations in the meantime.

    Fortunately over the last year as she has seen that we're not calling the state, she's mellowed out. But the whole thing bugs me to no end. My understanding is that in RI for example, she would have been on the hook for encapsulant but nothing else. Things would have gone much more smoothly between us.

    Posted by bikes2work July 3, 08 10:38 AM
  1. There are lots of philosophical arguments around this, and plenty of passion, but cutting to the chase I'll just tell you what I'd do if I were the landlord in the original post and instead had to pay costs out of my pocket:

    I'd quietly and politely pay for the de-leading, wait until the lease was up, then promptly boot their backsides to the curb. Why? Because in my short experience, landlord-tenant is a relationship like most others, its health depends on a basic honesty. And the more clarity around roles and expectations the better. Yes, it's all backed up by laws, and for good reason, but it all works best if there is that fundamentally good relationship.

    The tenants in the story started out by lying. Period. Legally I would fullfill my obligations, but they'd be searching for a new place the next year.

    Posted by accidental landlord July 3, 08 10:52 AM
  1. bikes2work: she's worried you baby will get hurt and you'll sue her for millions for being negligent. She's waking up at night imaging the loss of a lifetime of accumulated wealth, which presumably she needs to retire on someday soon. Who wouldn't be paranoid at that prospect? What's a minor irritation to you is terrifying to her, I'm sure.

    Posted by accidental landlord July 3, 08 10:57 AM
  1. Legalities aside, I learned years ago in business ethics class that withholding information that can be harmful to another party in a contract is certainly unethical. This is an example of the environment that they are going to raise their child in. If we continue to pick and choose when to be ethical we will face many more Enrons and mortgage-market collapses.

    This is of course a very black and white view of a grey issue, but at some point people have to grow their moral back-bone and set an example. If they were truly experiencing discrimination, the Harvard legal aides or a private attorney could help them, instead they choose a ethically questionable route. I know of many newly built condos (now apartments) with no lead issue that they could choose to live in.

    Posted by Dina July 3, 08 11:47 AM
  1. Accidental landlord says: "I'd quietly and politely pay for the de-leading, wait until the lease was up, then promptly boot their backsides to the curb."

    This is very clearly and very specifically illegal. If a landlord will not renew a lease and there is a prior history of contention over lead, then the landlord will be in trouble. I've talked to people at state agencies and this is very clear.

    As for my landlady worrying at night--perhaps this is the case. However, we've been extremely considerate to her, but she has been brusque in response.

    Marcus says: "In any old house, parents may not become bad tenants because they have children, but they certainly become unprofitable tenants. All of them. Each and every one."

    This is BS. We are new parents and we are no less profitable for our landlady now then we were two years ago. There have been absolutely NO additional repair, insurance, or other costs associated with the presence of our child. Until you have interviewed every landlord everywhere, perhaps you shouldn't make statements of this kind.

    Posted by bikes2work July 3, 08 01:10 PM
  1. One more point. My landlady, with a minimum of effort and expense (yes, I researched the expense) could make our apartment lead-free, and advertise it as such, then charging a premium to rent it to future parents. All that has to be replaced is a few pieces of original molding, as the rest of the apartment was gutted in the 70's. This would allow an instance where parent renters would be MORE profitable than the childless.

    By my calculations the return on investment would be 1 to 2 years. But, she is not big on math.

    Posted by bikes2work July 3, 08 01:30 PM
  1. Rona, what you are really asking is whether the withholding of information was a "nice" thing to do. The issue of ethics bends both ways. In fact, the landord would have been wise to make the unit lead free before renting to this couple, regardless of knowlege of pregnancy. The landlord should have told the couple that the house contained lead before the couple rented it. If the landlord failed to do this, the landlord potentially exposed this couple (and in utero fetus) to a toxic substance. However, since the landlord is not required to abate a unit rented to an adult, he had no legal obligation (until he found out about the pregnancy)

    The issue of this person's pregnancy is not relevant; it is no more relevant than a person's self knowlege that they are messy housekeepers or cook smelly food or have an adult child who unexpectedly periodically visits. Are we obligated to tell the landlord all of this?

    Renting a house is not about ethics or morals. There is no ethical obligation to provide the landlord with any information beyond the bound of the legal contract. Moral and ethical gudelines are ambiguous and fuzzy lines and are open to discussion and dissent. The only information that is relevant is that which the landlord and tenant can legally inquire about. There is no excuse for a landlord not knowing the statutes. Those landlords who skirt their legal obligations should be held accountable. As others have stated, this is the cost of doing business. Any landlord who does not obtain a lead inspection and does not factor in the cost of deleading into the price of a purchased rental unit deserves to lose the money it costs to abate.

    Would I prefer to rent from a "nice" (whatever this means) landlord? Sure. As a landlord, would I prefer to rent from a "nice" (whatever this means) tenant ? Sure. However, let's not confuse this with the legal responsibility of landlords and tenants.

    Liana Leahy - please see prior blogs on this subject. It is the dust, not just the chewing - eating, that is of greatest concern.

    Posted by GB July 3, 08 01:38 PM
  1. MarcMarcus,

    It's no burden at all. Let me clarify too. I should have said "Your positions seem to suggest that is preferable to maintain a reduced supply of de-leaded apartments for the benefit of rental market as a whole. Is this correct?"

    Thanks for telling me in plain english what you meant. I understand the cost is going to be born by the consumer - they always are. So, let me reframe the my question: "Is society better off with lower rents for the childless? If so, why?" Assume four things: families pay more for de-leaded apartments, the cost of lead abatement is entirely born by the renter, the lead law is here to stay, and lead is bad for kids.

    Marcus, you usually are a rational person at least when it comes to real estate investing. Why the 180 now? Landlords (should) have known that lead is a business risk since 1992's Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act. Anyone that purchased a rental property since 1992 should have factored the cost of lead abatement into the investment and haircut the seller or include it in capital budgeting. They chose to ignore it. When one party ignores a risk for monetary benefit at the cost of the other party, that is fraud - irrespective of how you feel about the lead laws.

    The landlord/lead issue is similar to the disfunction of auction rate securities / variable rate preferreds markets or the writing of deep out of the money calls and puts. In both cases, investors did/do not fully understand the risks and are blowing up. Just because it is unlikely to happen doesn’t mean it won't and you ignore the risk at your own peril.

    I think you are spot on: the cost of abatement is geometrically larger than the risk and the risk is largely avoidable if parents don't let children eat paint chips every day for a week. However, politicians think linearly or if they don't they obfuscate complexity of issues to appeal to the lowest common denominator. See the student loan industry clusterfk.* We are stuck with the politicians and political decisions that we voters allow.

    (Ted Kennedy completely destroyed the student financial aid and, if left uncorrected, will create a substantial taxpayer liability. In the meantime, students will not be attending university. BTW, this is a hint if you are familiar with the term "Easy to Borrow". )

    Posted by WSJevons July 3, 08 01:41 PM
  1. "This is very clearly and very specifically illegal. If a landlord will not renew a lease and there is a prior history of contention over lead, then the landlord will be in trouble. I've talked to people at state agencies and this is very clear."

    Wait: you're telling me that it is ILLEGAL for a landlord to not renew a lease if they there was contention over lead that the landlord then fixed!?

    That is the most ludicrous and insane law I've ever heard of. It's MY property. Once the lease is up I should be under no more obligation to the tenant, just as the tenant is under no obligation to renew with me. Call me crazy, but contention - over anything - seems like the very BEST reason not to renew a lease.

    Posted by accidental landlord July 3, 08 02:11 PM
  1. "This is very clearly and very specifically illegal. If a landlord will not renew a lease and there is a prior history of contention over lead, then the landlord will be in trouble. I've talked to people at state agencies and this is very clear."

    Bull. It is the end of a contract.

    It may be illegal if the landlord makes no effort to rent the property at the increased level. Proving it is going to be hard though. What if he lets if he lists it at the new price and someone 'negotiates' a better price . . . or he finds no takers at the new price . . . etc

    To Marcus' earlier point, someone's gonna pay and the market for de-leaded apartments is higher. Consider it a cost of having a child - unless you think the entire rental market should assist in paying for the safety of your child . . .

    Posted by WSJevons July 3, 08 02:39 PM
  1. Ok, after consulting a web site, I think what you're talking about is that it's illegal to "retaliate" against a tenant for exercising their legal rights. In this case the right being their insisting that the apartment be de-leaded.

    "It will be presumed that you are retaliating against your tenant if within six (6) months of the tenant’s exercising any protected rights as briefly stated above, you terminate the tenancy, increase the rent, or otherwise attempt to change the terms of the tenancy."

    Ok, what if the lease runs out before six months? And even if I were constrained by this, I'd wait six months and one day. I mean honestly: should I sit there and play the sucker while these people do precisely what they want? I don't think so.

    Posted by accidental landlord July 3, 08 02:50 PM
  1. Accidental landlord,

    I'm not saying the law is reasonable, but just that it exists. I think the premise behind the law is to prevent landlords from exacting "revenge" against tenants who press for a lead-free apartment.

    Posted by bikes2work July 3, 08 03:10 PM
  1. To all mentioning the legality issues, brush up on your landlord/tenant law. There is not enough information in the story to identify whether the landlord had or did not have the legal right to refuse to rent to the tenants. In Massachusetts, an owner-occupied two-family home does not carry the same obligations as any other rental property. There are caveats to the exemption, but in general, they can refuse to rent to families. I know this both as a landlord and as an agent who actually had to learn this stuff.

    There is a large segment of homeowners that choose to be landlords of owner-occupied two-families because they have more control over their property and finances due to the protections offered by the state.

    Assuming it is owner occupied, because the landlord (legally) can refuse to rent to families, it is justifiable that they can demand to know whether a family (current or knowing before tenancy) is applying for the apartment and subsequetly deny that tenancy. Because they have the right to deny it and the tenants obscured that right, the tenants are acting outside of ethical norms.

    I find it similar to when one falsifies a job application. Should one expect to remain an employee when the employer finds out about an omission that would have legally precluded them from the position? Where do we draw the line?

    I find deliberate ommision or lying on a rental application grounds not to trust a tenant and to deny them tenancy in the future. Not sure if the legal system would agree with me about ommission, but I would know that I am acting with a clean conscience-not lying in bed at night wondering when the landlord is going to find out. They may be the greatest tenants in the world, but I would always wonder if they're hiding something else. Let's say this happened and later in the tenancy they were late with their rent for whatever reason(job loss, on vacation, forgot etc...). I would have less tolerance for them and be more likely to act to evict than try to help them and work it out.

    Posted by Dina July 5, 08 12:45 PM
  1. I currently (gladly) pay a premium to live in a de-leaded apartment. I also won't hesitate to test for lead for the next house I buy. The era of people listing homes as Lead Paint: Unknown are over. The test kits are too inexpensive and I'll be glad to use the presence of lead as a negotiating tactic during the sale.

    As someone who recently experienced all sorts of discrimination while looking to rent a 2+ bed apartment in some of Boston's "best" towns, I can't blame this couple - we lost 3 places to lead excuses... all while the clock continued to tick toward the last day in our old place. When you only have 3 weeks (which except for Sept1 is almost always the case around here) to find a rental, finding a deleaded apartment in Boston is brutal.

    Posted by AHG July 7, 08 05:10 PM
  1. I love how this blog has gotten all sorts of 'landlords are evil responses", yet very few people have bothered to answer whether or not the renters were 1) legally wrong or 2) morally wrong. I think that's because the answers 1)no and 2) yes, are pretty clear.

    Posted by buyerandseller July 8, 08 09:35 AM
  1. You'd really happily pay the 10-20 thousand cost deleading costs extra? You should have no problem then, since you are looking in the 3-4,000 a month range.

    Of course, you can find landlords who don't know how to run their businesses, and therefore things are cheaper. They usually don't last though, see the stories on foreclosed landlords and kicked out tenants in the news.

    Rental bargain can be found, usually in places owned by older/retired people who have low built in costs and little sophistication. They are unlikely to be deleaded though.

    Posted by charles July 8, 08 01:04 PM
  1. They should be required to tell the landlord that they have a child. Landlords are required to provide a lead paint compliant apartment if there is a child under 6 living there. What a surprise that would be for the landlord to find out about the child since it can cost thousands of dollars to become compliant.

    The landlord would be unable to prepare the apartment before-hand if a young child would be occupying the space without their knowledge. It is much easier to prepare an apartment when no one is occupying it.

    The lease would be written for the adults not the children, if the landlord wasn't notified. Would the children be covered under the lease?

    Posted by KF July 17, 08 02:29 PM
  1. You people going on about "withholding" information don't know what you're talking about. A would-be tenant is obliged to truthfully answer the questions on the rental application -- period. You don't have any obligation to divulge your political philosophy, your religion, your taste in television, nor are you obligated to discuss your health or medical history -- and that would include pregnancy.

    That said, it's clear the Mass lead paint law perversely makes housing for families scarcer and more expensive. It would be far more just to tenants and landlords alike if the state simply allocated funds to make ALL housing safe from lead paint (perhaps it could be done via a sliding scale to save taxpayers from subsidizing huge property companies). But affordable housing for renters with children clearly hasn't been a priority in Massachusetts, so the state has taken the cheap way out via an unfunded mandate that negatively impacts smaller landlords -- and gives them a powerful incentive to do everything in their power to avoid renting to people with kids.

    Finally, although I don't blame landlords for trying to avoid the considerable expense associated with the de-deleading of housing, I also don't blame tenants for asserting their rights. Bottom line is: the law is the law. If you're a property investor and you don't want to get stuck with a four or five figure bill for deleading rental housing, DON'T buy an older property that hasn't been de-leaded, and DON'T complain if, in your desire to make a buck, you ignore the financial risks associated with lead paint and older property, and you someday get stuck with a fat bill. A child's right to decent housing -- housing that won't cause brain damage -- in this instance at least quite rightly outweighs your right to generate profits.

    Posted by Louisio June 14, 09 12:50 AM
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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