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Renting Issues

Rising rents: Reality or just scare tactics?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 24, 2012 07:48 AM

Stop scaring people with all those high rents from Wellesley and the Back Bay!

That's the push back that predictably comes after any post or article that mentions some of the more expensive rental markets out there.

Here's what sturgis79 had to say about my recent Globe West article and post about soaring suburban rents.

Talking about $3500 a month rents in Wellesley or Back Bay makes for sensational writing, but it just doesn't apply to 95% of the people out there. Anyone who is paying $3500 a month for rent really needs to take a finance 101 course. You could get yourself a $600K home for that kind of money. And really, using Wellesley to argue the rental increase point is weak. That's like using Brockton to argue that home prices are going to drop by 50% from current levels.

Sturgis, with all due respect, you are wrong on this one. Rents are up across the board, and not just in Wellesley. And it's far better to look squarely at the unpleasant realities of the perpetually-price-inflated Greater Boston housing market than to try and wish away all those crazy rents and home prices.

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Looking at the rental market, in charts

Posted by Rona Fischman September 21, 2012 01:55 PM

Anthony Adamski, founder of PadMatcher wanted to share their look back at rental season. (John Moore brought you the August entry on finding a roommate.)

PadMatcher posted some graphs that show what is going on in rentals in the Boston area. Reminder: this is Boston-specific.

The bears, who live in the woods of cyberspace and come to feed on this site, like to make fun of “soaring rents.” Today is your day.

I find the first chart most interesting. The data comes from Zillow/Rentjuice. According to the first chart, there was a trend change last winter. Rents went up steadily through the winter of 2011-2012, which is not the typical cycle. Limited supply in Q1 and Q4 generally makes this the slowest time of year for rentals. After September first, demand generally drops as well. There are a number of factors that can explain that the difference last winter. One of them being an increase in demand. Another, an increase in higher-priced available units (and fewer lower-cost units available.) Neither bode well for the stability of the housing market.

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Are renters getting priced out of the suburbs?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 21, 2012 06:33 AM

Rents are skyrocketing in the suburbs as well as the city.

And that's presenting renters with a choice buyers in perpetually-too-expensive Greater Boston have long faced, of either moving farther out in search of a better deal or paying up in order to stay closer to work.

In fact, many renters are in danger of being pushed out beyond 495 in search of a deal, a situation middle-income buyers have long faced in the Boston area.

The western suburbs are seeing some of the steepest rent increases in the country, while the northern burbs are not far behind.

Middlesex County, for example, ranks up in the top ten markets in the country experiencing the steepest rent increases, with a 9.6 percent increase in median rents in August, according to Trulia.

And many towns are seeing even bigger increases than that.

Meanwhile, renters north of Boston and in the Merrimack Valley are faced with a similar escalation, with an 8.9 percent increase from 2007 to the first half of 2012.

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What was wrong with the house? The agent

Posted by Rona Fischman September 11, 2012 01:56 PM

The worst showing of the millennium, so far:

My clients rejected a property that didn’t have a chance of selling. Not because it is uninhabitable or in a terrible location, or a weird, weird style or something. The biggest handicap to this property was the person paid to show it. The listing agent.
What did he do wrong? He failed to convince the seller to prepare the property for sale. He showed the worst parts first, leaving the buyer unable to imagine living there.

Why am I telling you this?
Because, as a seller, you need to find out how your house will be shown as part of your agent interview. There should be a showing plan, including preparing the house to show at its best and a planned tour to show the house at its best. If there are tenants, a plan to show in a way that keeps cooperation is also important. On interview, if your potential agent hasn’t considered these things, I think he/she is not doing enough for you.

Buyers should be aware of showing plans, too. A good plan will create a positive impression; maybe even one more positive than the house deserves. Buyers need to stay focused on their short list of house feature “want list” items and on the house itself. A well-done showing plan distracts a buyer from features they don’t want (especially in a hurry-up.) A bad showing plan or lack of preparation can turn buyers off a good house. Under-marketed houses will become a bargain when the seller and his/her tenants are sick of all the failing showings.

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Are landlords going fee crazy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 7, 2012 08:30 AM

The landlord is now king in this increasingly red hot rental market.

Big apartment complex owners and mom-and-pop operators alike are boosting rents in a market where the number of vacant units has hit rock bottom.

The vacancy rate in the Route 128 corridor, for example, has fallen below 3 percent, according to a recent study cited by the Boston Business Journal.

But some apartment building owners aren't satisfied with just collecting higher rents. Instead, they have taken to hitting up tenants with a bewildering range of fees as well.

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As rental season ends

Posted by Rona Fischman August 31, 2012 01:43 PM

The magic date, September first, approaches. Tenants without a lease and landlords without a tenant are making their final decisions. The overriding question is: Is September first do or die in rentals? Are you a tenant who slept on a couch for months because you couldn’t find a place to rent after September first? Are you a landlord who had a vacancy for months because you didn’t find a tenant by September 1? I am convinced that most of the area right around Boston functions on the academic schedule, and that the suburbs are less tied to it, but are still affected. But is it as bad as some make it out to be?

Many landlords who allow tenancy-at-will leases ask for longer notice in the off-season. When I discuss leases with my first-time house buyers, I ask them what their leases say. I often hear things like, “my landlord won’t let me move between November and the end of March, but I can move after that.” I don’t get into the legality or the paperwork; the understanding is that they are expected to stay through the winter and they intend on honoring the agreement. Sometimes, what they think the lease says makes no sense to me, so I tell them to talk to an attorney about what they signed. Have you known arrangements where there is a tenancy-at-will for part of the year?

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Moving day blues

Posted by Rona Fischman August 24, 2012 01:44 PM

Do you consider the staircase size when you think about renting or buying? For safety, stairs should be even sizes. Variations in height -- even a little bit -- make it easy to trip. Stair risers can be as small as about four inches, making a very long, but not steep stairway. I don’t see many of those around here because they take up too much room. At the steepest, stairs should be between seven to a bit under eight inches high. Eight inch stairs are pretty steep. For moving, the problem is generally that the stairway is either not very wide or has a turn in it. This makes it hard to get large objects up or down.

When I was renting, I moved a lot (That is one of the joys of renting; it has great flexibility.) I owned a living room set that could be taken apart and carried in and out in pieces. So the hardest thing to move in and out was the mattress and box spring.
I remember the adventures I had helping friends get their furniture into second floor apartments. I learned early about the porch trick: That’s when you put the couch on the roof of the moving truck, then hoist it onto the porch and in that door. That’s what hardened by resolve to get an easy-move couch.

Renters, what are your moving stories? Pet peeves?

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When will they ever move out?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 24, 2012 07:47 AM

That's the question more than a few exasperated boomer parents are asking right now.

Slammed by the Great Recession, 20-somethings returned home in droves.

But it looks like what was an emergency reaction is now turning into a permanent lifestyle shift.

While the economy has slowly been picking up, junior appears quite comfortable camping out with mom and dad, stashing away money and getting free meals.

The number of young adults living with their parents increased by 2 million after the recession, Housing Wire reports, citing "economic commentary" from a Cleveland Federal Reserve official.

So in addition to a stinky economy and prolonged adolescence, what else is to blame?

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Good time to buy a Cape home?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 20, 2012 11:23 AM

That's the gist of this Globe article which cites falling home prices on the Cape.

But I wonder. Maybe one reason home prices are down on the Cape is the bloom is off the rose when it comes to what has long been one of the nation's favorite vacation playgrounds.

Yes, of course, there's the real estate downturn, which has certainly hit the Cape hard.

The median price in Barnstable County is down to $320,000 from a peak of $390,000, the piece points out, citing The Warren Group, noting prices on the Cape's more middle income towns are even lower.

But there are big problems that go with being a popular vacation spot, with traffic a major headache on the Cape, as any casual visitor discovers.

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How do you find a good roommate?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 17, 2012 01:58 PM

As we approach the final weeks of apartment-hunting season, there are many renters -- especially young renters -- who are looking for an apartment to share with roommates. Finding a roommate takes a lot of luck and some caution. Choosing a roommate is like having a blind date that lasts for a year. John Moore from PadMatcher gives this advice. What would you add?

Bad roommates; we hope to avoid them, but taking a chance with classified ads may place you in the middle of roommate hell. Before you start searching you need to figure out what suits you best. Here are some tips on finding the perfect roommate.

1. Cleanliness
I’m sure we’ve all had a messy roommate at one point in time, to some people it doesn’t matter and to others it can be a nightmare. Figure out ahead of time how much clutter you can tolerate and be honest with how tidy you are. Getting that out of the way is key so you don’t get locked into a lease with someone who deserves to be on “Hoarders.”

2. Atmosphere
What kind of atmosphere are you looking for with a roommate? Are you a recent graduate still looking to go out on the weekends? Or have you landed a serious job that will require quiet downtime and a calming atmosphere? Let your potential roommates know your preferences. You won’t be happy with waking up at three in the morning to the sound of your roommate and their friends singing a slurred rendition of “Sweet Caroline” unless you are inclined to sing along.

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Out of control landlords

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 17, 2012 09:41 AM

With rents escalating madly, it's tough enough already for renters in Greater Boston and across the country as well.

But in addition to keeping a hand on their wallets, tenants also need to keep an eye out for those bad-apple landlords who opt to play by their own crooked rules.

It's a particularly pertinent topic given the biggest moving day of the year in the student-packed Boston area, Sept. 1, is fast approaching.

And sometimes tenants face not just discrimination, but outright abuse by predatory landlords, as in the case of Cincinnati apartment owner who was recently fined $855,000 by the feds.

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Absentee landlord has tenants who don't care, really?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 10, 2012 01:52 PM

This week, I had the opportunity to talk to a police officer about housing and safety. We were entirely in agreement about the value of “eyes on the street” and that the presence of retirees or people who work from home is a good preventive measure, for safety. Having people on their front porches at random times, all day, prevents house invasion. The way she put it was like this,

“Burglary is a crime of opportunity. They will go for the house that is easy to get into and out of without being seen. When you have people on the street that could notice a stranger, it is less likely that a typical burglar will bother a house there.”

Then she said something that surprised me a little. She mentioned that absentee landlords are a problem for safety.

“They don’t care and their tenants don’t care.”

Absentee landlords don’t care – maybe. Tenants of absentee landlords don’t care – really? Do they care less than tenants in owner-occupied buildings?

What do you think? Are you a tenant of an absentee landlord? Do you neglect the property? Do you not pay attention to your neighbors? Do absentee landlords deserve their reputation for being bad landlords?

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Does Allston have what it takes to be hip?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 10, 2012 10:01 AM

Allston's living proof that jam packing a neighborhood with rowdy college kids doesn't necessarily make you hip, at least in an upscale, Davis Square kind of way. A bit of a student zoo, sure, but hipsters, at least those with a few bucks in their pocket, have been renting and buying on the Cambridge side of the river.

Not convinced? Here's an enlightening discussion about some of the current rental conditions in the neighborhood that appeared a couple months ago on Universal Hub, with decrepit, student-packed rentals a primary complaint.

But where others might be skeptical, developer Bruce Percelay apparently sees some true hipness potential in Allston, the kind that will prompt young professionals to part with significant money each month.

He's sunk $20 million into the first major new apartment project in the neighborhood in decades, The Element, with more to come. It includes a 2,000-square-foot roof deck built with recycled synthetic grass - where yoga classes are taught - along with a movie theater, a club room and 100 parking spaces with a car wash station.

It's what Percelay, with the blessing of Boston officials, is calling the Allston Green District, seven buildings owned by Percelay's Mount Vernon Company within a two-block area along Commonwealth Avenue, Griggs Street and Brainerd Road.

And he's basing the appeal of his stylish new apartment project on its eco-friendly lifestyle - what could be more hipster than that?

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When can the landlord come in?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 9, 2012 02:00 PM

Where is the line between taking care of the property and leaving the tenants alone to enjoy the property? One of the sore-points for tenants is that some landlords are not respectful of the tenant’s right to “quiet enjoyment” of their space. Landlords come in too frequently, do not give notice, and do not cooperate to enter at convenient times.
On the other side of the argument, landlords complain about tenants damaging the property or locking them out.

Your lease is the guiding document for what a landlord or tenant can or cannot do. This written agreement is the fall-back position for any dispute. Most people use a lease that was written by an attorney. Unless the lease was written by a hack or is outdated, it will conform to current law. I took a look at the lease that I use: There is a clause that allows the landlord to enter the apartment to inspect, make repairs, and show to other tenants, buyers, appraisers and such. It allows the landlord to enter to inspect and to charge tenants if they neglect the property and cause a need for repairs. There is also a clause holding the landlord responsible for keeping the locks in good order. Also, it specifically requires the tenants not to change the locks and to always provide that the landlord can get into every room.

That’s the rules, according to the lease. Read your lease! I am always surprised by how few of my tenants every have read the lease. I suspect that some landlords use boilerplate and don’t read them, either.

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Renters with children. Know your rights.

Posted by Rona Fischman August 8, 2012 02:06 PM

We are in the heart of rental season. Rentals aren’t just for students. Families rent, too, or at least try to. Today, I republish information from Attorney Richard D. Vetstein about family-unfriendly landlords.

In 2011, the Attorney General sued a Metro-Boston landlord for evicting or threatened to evict tenants with young children, renting apartments containing lead paint to tenants with young children, failing to abate lead hazards in those apartments, failing to provide proper notice of lead hazards to his tenants, and making misrepresentations regarding the presence of lead paint in his apartments. The complaint further alleges that the landlord retaliated against tenants when they reported him for violations of the law.

Unfortunately, many Greater Boston landlords aren’t prosecuted by the AG’s office and are allowed to impose family unfriendly and unlawful housing practices like advertising that “Unit Not Deleaded.” The ad, while albeit truthful, it might as well read “Children Under 6 Not Wanted.”

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Legally too small or too crowded

Posted by Rona Fischman August 3, 2012 01:52 PM

Last week, I gave the advice about safety and basic comfort to young people looking for their first place. I was called on the carpet for giving advice that did not include information about maximum number of occupants allowed and minimum size standards. That advice has been covered before, but I will reiterate for newcomers to BREN and newcomers to the Boston area:

Attorney Vetstein, on maximum occupancy without a lodging house license as of November 8, 2011:

the law requires a lodging housing license for any unit rented to four or more unrelated adults. City of Worcester officials cited the College Hill landlords for renting to 4 students in each apartment unit, without a proper license and without sprinkler systems. He went on the mention that there is ambiguity about whether this involves students only, or any group of unrelated adults. He also mentioned that the City of Boston allows up to five unrelated adults, by 2008 ordinance.

The key for me -- and my theme of safety last week -- is that when there are a lot of people in a space, there should be adequate fire safety. The work that the landlords in Worcester didn’t want to do, in order to rent to large groups, was to add sprinklers.

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The student slum

Posted by Rona Fischman July 27, 2012 01:34 PM

This is the time of year when there is a lot of change in tenancies in these student – and single adult – areas. If you are switching apartments and roommate situations, this entry is for you. This weekend, there will be a wave of twenty-somethings looking for rentals for another academic year. Some of them have never lived in their own apartment. They don’t know what to look for, and what to avoid. Can you add to the advice below?

There are student slums, and then there are student slums…
Student slums tend to be places near universities and transit lines where the landlord has maximized the number of bedrooms, usually at the expense of living rooms and dining rooms. They are not so cheap, when you look at the total rent. But, they are cheap per bedroom. That seems to be what students and young working adults care about. Some student slum apartments are in good shape, with good fire safety and decent storage; some are not. Some are in crowded -- but safe – areas; some are not.
If you are a renter who is living in an apartment with roommates -- whether you are a student or not -- your apartment might be a student slum. The hallmark, in my opinion, is the converted living room and/or dining room that serves as additional bedroom(s).
When you enter a new housing situation with strangers, it is like entering a new dating situation. Rule 1 in dating and marriage applies: If you expect that the person will change for you, you will be disappointed.

Take a hard look at what IS at the apartment, in order to choose whether you want to live there. The way to other roommates keep the place is the way it will stay, if you live with them. The way the landlord keeps the place is the way he or she will continue to keep it. Notice these things when you are looking around the apartment:

Safety:
Retrofitted apartments sometimes take shortcuts in fire safety and ventilation. Check that there are reasonable routes to escape, in case of fire, and that all the windows open. Beware of steep staircases and painted-shut windows.

Check out the neighborhood. Some crowded places are very safe because there is safety in having eyes on the street. Figure out your route from transit to your front door and be comfortable with that route during all times you may use it.

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As Sox sink, Fenway rents soar

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 25, 2012 05:00 AM

Go figure. The Sox have their worst season in years and landlords around the ballpark decide to jack up rents.


I guess they are simply taking the lead of the Sox when it comes to pricing.

On a per-square-foot basis, asking rents in the Fenway jumped by 9 percent during the second quarter from the first three months of the year, RentJuice reports.

That even tops Back Bay, which saw a 7 percent increase.

Still, some of the increase has to do with a number of new luxury apartment high-rises opening up near the old ballpark rather than landlords jacking up rents on existing units, according to RentJuice.

The average two bedroom asking rent in the neighborhood - and in Kemore Square - is $1,913.

That, however, is still a bargain compared to Cambridge rents.

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Online apartment hunting

Posted by Rona Fischman July 20, 2012 01:54 PM

Back this week is Matthew Boyes-Watson and Raleigh Werner -- the co-founders of RentPrefs, to give their take on the pros and cons of on-line rental searches.

There are dozens of online tools available to renters who are looking for apartments in Boston. The key to choosing and using these tools is to understand what each one does.

There are four primary types of online services that help renters find and landlords fill apartments. We’ll go in order of oldest (most archaic) to newest.


1. Brokerage Websites

Brokerage websites pull information directly from a brokerage’s apartment database.

Pros: Updated frequently. Unlikely to be have false information.

Cons: These websites only reflect individual particular brokerage’s inventory. If you wanted to search through all the available apartments in Boston, you would have to go to all the brokerages websites and search through their listings individually!


2. Online Classifieds Boards

Online classifieds boards are simple and straightforward: free space to post basic advertisements about available apartments.

Craigslist is the primary online classifieds posting board where realtors and landlords place ads for available apartments. The best practice for keeping ads visible on Craigslist is to post constantly. Each time an ad is posted, it goes to the top, so the more ads, the more often they are at or near the top.

Pros: Craigslist is apartment listing Mecca. There are few landlords or realtors who do not post ads here, so the volume of listings is massive.

Cons: This system favors quantity versus ad quality, sacrificing information for existence. Often, ads with appealing titles contain little information, prompting the renter to call, regardless of if the title description was accurate or not.

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How small is too small?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 16, 2012 07:29 AM

Here's one trend we may be seeing more of: studio apartments the size of a dorm room.

With hopes of encouraging more low-cost housing for singles of all ages, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seeking bids from developers to turn an empty lot into a beehive of studio apartments, each no larger than 300 square feet, according to this AP piece.

It's just enough room for a bathroom, a kitchenette and a small living area just large enough for a foldout bed, the story notes.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino is pushing for some micro units of his own, this one aimed at attracting entrepreneurs to the waterfront.

Behind the push is increasing demand/need for housing designed for singles, whether young, old or in the middle.

Here are couple eye-opening stats from the AP story:

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Encore: how to sniff out a bad landlord

Posted by Rona Fischman July 6, 2012 01:48 PM

This is an encore publication from my "Landlord-tenant Hell" series in 2010.

Are you paying your rent to the right person? That is a question that tenants should not need to wonder about, but sometimes they ought to. A friend of mine paid her rent for seven months to the wrong person. The wrong person was her landlord. The right person was a bank official.

Here’s what happened: She had been renting the house for a few years. She loved it. She made friends in the neighborhood. She was looking forward to being there a long time. One day, an official from a local lender knocked on the door to ask for her rent. She said she’d already paid it to the landlord.

The bank official said she owed it to the lender. The landlord was in foreclosure. The good side of this is that the knock on the door was the lender and not a constable with a “notice to quit.” She isn’t being evicted. The lender bought the house back and it will be for sale.

My friend owns a small business. She doesn’t have tons of savings, but will be making an attempt to buy this house. I made some calls and put her in communication with a local attorney.

This may have a happier ending than the last time I wrote about a foreclosing landlord.

Today’s topic is: How do you, as a prospective tenant, interview your landlord?

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A summer of soaring rents?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 5, 2012 10:38 AM

Apartment rents are soaring in Greater Boston as the mercury rises.

The Boston area is getting hammered with double-digit increases in asking rents as we move into the summer months, a new report finds.

It's a field day for landlords, especially the big apartment community owners, but bad news for renters trying to make ends meet.

Rents across the metro Boston market posted a 10.3 percent, year-over-year increase through the end of June compared to the same period in 2011,Trulia reports.

That's compared to a 5.4 percent jump nationally, putting Boston in the top five, behind only San Francisco, Oakland, Denver and Miami, when it comes to rising rents. (SF is No. 1 with a whopping 14.7 percent hike.)

More importantly for Boston area renters trying to sort out their options, increases in asking rents show no signs in leveling off and have actually picked up considerable momentum since the spring.

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What landlords should look for in a tenant and how to be a good renter

Posted by Rona Fischman June 29, 2012 01:49 PM

I invited Matthew Boyes-Watson and Raleigh Werner -- the co-founders of RentPrefs, to give their take on the way to start a smooth rental process.

How to help landlords help you

As discussed in last week’s post, if you’re planning on looking for an apartment with a September first lease, don’t hesitate to start looking now. This post will cover how to differentiate yourself from the scores of other apartment-seekers in Boston. This can get you a leg up on signing the lease you want as quickly as possible and leave the competition in the dust. The key to locking up your new place is a simple combination of providing the right information at the right time.

Put your mouth where your money is

If you can pay the rent, have the papers to prove it when you’re looking at apartments. If you can show that you’re in good financial standing to a landlord upfront, you can greatly increase your chances of securing a lease to a place you love. As a reference, a solid credit score (650+) is an easy metric for landlords to digest and lends third-party credibility to renters. Landlords are fundamentally risk-averse (with good reason) and like to know they’re working with reliable tenants. If your credit is below 650, then having a notarized guarantor form will assuage any solvency fears on the spot. Having your guarantor and a notary ready to complete the form right after you find a place you like will give you an edge over less prepared apartment-seekers.

Bigger is better

The longer the lease, the bigger the payday for landlords. If you’re sure you love a place and already know you’ll be renting for more than a year, you should let the landlord know upfront. They’ll give priority status to any renter who can commit to more than a one-year lease (especially if that renter has proven he or she can foot the bill). Landlords are always looking for ways to fill vacancies and reduce apartment turnover. It’s truly a win-win for renters and landlords if a renter can commit to a long-term lease.

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Measuring the rental madness

Posted by Rona Fischman June 22, 2012 01:55 PM

I asked Matthew Boyes-Watson and Raleigh Werner -- the co-founders of RentPrefs, a tenancy creation service for renters, agents, and landlords in Boston -- to provide some numbers regarding the local migration patterns of renters around Boston.

Measuring exactly how busy the September first rental influx is proves to be an eye-opening exercise.

Volume
The City of Boston houses about 370,000 renters in 170,000 renter-occupied units. With average rents floating around $2,200 per month, Metro Boston alone produces roughly $4.5 billion in annual rent collections. Add in two of the most populous living areas surrounding Metro Boston (Cambridge and Allston-Brighton), and you’re looking at over 450,000 renters spending about $6 billion annually on rental housing.

Turnover
In addition to the sheer volume of the market, the Boston area has a rapid turnover period when over half of all rentals change – that’s about 120,000 apartment units. Testimonials from renters and agents indicate that this transition occurs for the most part between June and September.

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Return of the renters

Posted by Rona Fischman June 15, 2012 01:44 PM

The Boston area runs on an academic schedule, whether you have anything to do with schools or universities or not, it still affects you. You probably already noticed the lighter traffic due to the student exodus. It definitely affects me in the car and also at work. I work only as a buyer’s agent, helping people buy houses (not helping people who sell them, nor helping people who rent them.)

Renters, do you have a lease that ends in June, July, or August? Doesn’t it seem like everyone moves in the summer? After September 1st everyone is nestled in for the year, right? Today, I begin to focus one day a week on rental issues. If you have questions or stories to tell, email me.

There are two factors that create the typical pattern of a buying that revolves around a September 1st deadline. First, there is lease renewal. The second is public school placement. My suspicion is that the former is a result of the latter. Here in Greater Boston real estate buying and renting runs on an academic schedule. In other parts of the country, this is not as true. Here, peak buying season starts sometime when people perceive that winter is over, weather-wise. It runs through the spring. Then it slows down considerably after some buy and some choose to rent for another lease cycle.

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City or suburb – where’s the best place to raise a family?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 13, 2012 06:49 AM

The old idea that suburbia is somehow an inherently better place for children is losing some of its power, but it's still with us.

The decision to start a family often prompts a search for larger or more child-friendly surroundings, but families in a recent Rent.com poll were far more likely to choose the suburbs than the city.

One of the more provocative findings: 18 percent of city parents polled would raise their children in the suburbs if they had to do it over again.

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More bugs on Friday

Posted by Rona Fischman June 1, 2012 01:40 PM

When I was a child, we’d say “Good night, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” as if it was a joke. The Rolling Stones published “Shattered” in 1978; they say that in Manhattan there are rats on the West side and bedbugs uptown. But bedbug infestation is not a joke. I have a client who had, what he calls, “the world’s smallest bedbug infestation.” The exterminator found three of them. The house was treated. My client still wakes up stressed every time he feels a little itchy.

The problem is getting worse over the past few years. On June 15, you have the opportunity to learn all you need to know about bedbugs, and more. The event is sponsored by the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) in collaboration with Cambridge Health Alliance.

A bedbug infestation will force you to throw away every piece of cloth furniture in your house. Bedbugs have been tested and found to carry drug-resistant Staph infections, possibly MRSA. So, they could be a more serious public health problem than originally thought.

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Time for meaningful legal reform

Posted by Rona Fischman May 17, 2012 01:41 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein brings you the second part of his discussion. Are you ready to take action to support these pending bills?

The vast majority of the laws protecting tenants were passed in the 1970’s when rental housing was far more problematic than it is now in 2012. Unfortunately, these draconian laws disproportionately hurt the small property owners who own over 80 percent of the rental stock in Massachusetts. Laws which make investing and managing rental property hurt the economy and result in higher rents. Due to political pressure from tenant activists and liberal groups, lawmakers have been reluctant to level the playing field.

There are several bills pending at the State House which will provide landlords with more incentive to own rental property in Massachusetts, starting with a rent escrow bill.

Rent escrow
Massachusetts is one of the minority of states which does not have some form of rent escrow law. The need for one is absolutely critical because without it landlords incur large losses when the tenant’s defensive claims of “bad conditions” turn out to be minor, nonexistent or, worse yet, the result of intentionally inflicted damage to the property by the tenant in order to live rent-free.

A mandatory rent escrow law would require any tenant who is claiming rent withholding to pay the withheld rent to a local court month by month until code violations are repaired. After repairs are done, either the landlord and tenant agree on how the escrowed rent should be divided, or a judge orders a fair settlement. In most cases, the owner will get back most of the withheld escrowed rent. But the most important impact of a mandatory rent escrow law is that those nonpaying tenants who do not escrow can be promptly evicted for nonpayment of rent. Although nonpayment evictions will still take about three months, and owners will lose about three months of rent, much-longer-delayed evictions and the free rent trick will be stopped. This should be a no-brainer.

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The time has come for landlord-tenant legal reform

Posted by Rona Fischman May 16, 2012 02:05 PM

Today Attorney Richard D. Vetstein begins a two-part discussion of the state of law regulating residential rental properties and what he thinks of them.

For landlords, navigating Massachusetts landlord-tenant law is like walking barefoot through a IED-filled field in Afghanistan. At some point, you’ll likely blow off a leg. Massachusetts has a well-deserved reputation of being one of the most unfriendly places to own rental property. Allow me to outline just a sampling of these Draconian laws and the penalties for landlords’ non-compliance:

Breach of implied warranty of habitability: The first thing a savvy tenant will do after receiving an eviction notice is call the board of health to get the owner cited for code violations. Any violation, however minor, effectively enables the tenant to live rent-free during the case by withholding rent, and the owner will be compelled to make the necessary repairs while the eviction is pending. There have been many instances where tenants have intentionally inflicted property damage to claim code violations. Other penalties: reduction or elimination of rent owed; tenant cannot be evicted; triple damages; payment of tenant’s attorneys’ fees.

Breach of quiet enjoyment: This is another tenant favorite claim. It used to be for when slumlords would shut off utilities to tenants, but that rarely happens anymore. I’ve seen this used repeatedly when tenants are “inconvenienced” by landlords’ repeated attempts to access the premises to make repairs. Penalties: tenant gets to stay in possession; up to 3 months’ rent or actual damages, whichever is more; payment of tenant attorneys’ fees.

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Buyers parading through your apartment

Posted by Rona Fischman May 14, 2012 02:08 PM

It’s that time of year, renters. I am hearing from my clients that their landlords are pressuring them into signing up for another year’s lease. I am also hearing from people who are suddenly thinking of buying because their landlord has notified them that he or she intends to sell the house.

Showing rented houses and apartments are my least favorite kind of showing. Sellers who are home during showings create an awkward situation, but at least they are benefiting if the transaction takes place. The renter, on the other hand, has little to gain and frequently ends up moving as a result of the sale.

Not all tenants are slobs. Not all owners keep their places nice. It is a stereotype that rented places are not kept well. But stereotypes have some truth to them. I teach my clients to make an effort to tune out the personal property and personal style of the residents of a house, be they owners or renters. It is particularly hard when people are home.

On Wednesday, I showed a three-family house that had an empty apartment, where the deceased owner had lived. Downstairs was an apartment the looked like the Garment District’s by-the-pound room. The tenant, and tons of her collected stuff, was there. Upstairs, the other tenant’s place was decorated in a theme (the beach) and was clean, bright and charming. That tenant was not home. Although I noticed the difference, I was really looking at the building, which all-in-all was pretty nice.

Was your apartment ever in a building that was being sold out from under you? Were you cooperative or hostile? Did being told that your apartment was up for sale make you want to get a cat and not clean the litter box? Or did it make you self-conscious that you needed to immediately clean out your closets?

What does it cost to be economically independent in Massachusetts?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 26, 2012 02:09 PM

I frequently talk to young parents who are daunted by their inability to get into the real estate market. Even with dropping prices and low interest rates, the prospect of saving for a down payment and paying our still-inflated prices seems impossible. It shouldn’t be this way, they say, we are earning a lot of money, but it just doesn’t go far enough. They have a professional income, or two, but they feel far from rich.

Whether you are a renter or an owner, the greater Boston area is a very hard place to live, economically. Housing has a big part in that. What does it say about an area, when $91,600 is our area median household income (AMI)? What does it mean for people who are starting out? For those that are looking toward retirement? For those that find themselves unemployed or under-employed? What does it mean to you, in dollars and cents?

Crittenton’s Women’s Union has developed a tool to calculate what income a family needs to make ends meet. Around here, the Economic Independence level is rather high, compared with many places in the country. Try it.

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Can landlords require renter’s insurance?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 4, 2012 02:06 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein writes today about a different insurance matter: can landlords require tenants to insure their apartments?

I’ve recently become aware that some Massachusetts landlords are requiring that tenants procure their own policy of renter’s insurance as a condition of leasing. But I am also hearing about a dark side to this practice where some landlords have a kickback arrangement with the insurance provider where the landlord receives compensation for any policy taken out by a tenant. Some landlords also insist on being named as a loss payee on renter’s policies, which could benefit their own insurance coverage.

Renter’s insurance is usually a good idea, but under Massachusetts law, can a landlord require that a tenant get a policy (if the tenant doesn’t want one) and must it disclose a referral relationship with the insurance provider?

Landlords should be careful about renter’s insurance requirement
In light of recent court decisions, landlords should be careful about a mandatory renter’s insurance policy requirement. In the recent Hermida v. Archstone class action ruling, which considered what fees landlords can charge at the beginning of lease, the court held that landlords can only charge first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, and a lost key fee at the beginning of a tenancy, and no other types of fees.

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Scraping by on $100K?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 23, 2012 08:50 AM

Bring home $100K a year pretty much anywhere else in the country and you'd have your pick of places to live.

But here in Greater Boston, well not so much.

Here are a couple insightful comments from folks out in the market looking at rentals.

A slew of surveys are pointing to rising rents, especially in the Boston area, where apartments have never come cheap. The median rent in the Hub is now $1,834 - the fifth highest in the country - I noted in a recent post.

And even that won't get you far these days, veterans of the local rental market will tell you.

Check out these comments from a couple of apartment dwellers who have clearly seen it all and were not impressed with the $1,834 median rent number. It wasn't too high - rather it was too low!

The reality is, if you want something beyond a worn out 1970s leftover, it costs a lot more than that.

Writes Mggio:

- $1800 rent on a $100k salary is doable but tight. It's almost impossible if you have a car payment/student loans/credit card debt. You won't be able to save for house down payment paying that kind of rent and if you do, you won't be saving for retirement. $100k is a great salary for a single person though and is far above "average".

- If you are married perhaps with a kid and need a two-bedroom, expect to pay at least $2,500 for something decent. Your $100K salary no longer will cut it. You really don't want to life in a 2 bed priced under $2k a month, not even in Allston, Cambridge or Somerville.


 










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We're No. 1: Small towns in Mass most expensive for renters

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 15, 2012 07:07 AM

You have to be pulling down more than $31 an hour to afford the average two bedroom apartment in small towns across the state, a new report finds.

That's about $64,000 a year.

But here's the rub: The average renter in our state is making not much more than half of that, pulling down $16.94 an hour, the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds in its annual "Out of Reach" report.

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Sustainability and the business of being a landlord

Posted by Rona Fischman February 28, 2012 02:14 PM

Last week, I wrote about how increased rental cost has created greater hardship for area renters. With roughly one out of four households spending half of their income on housing, we have a lot of people finding it hard to live here.
Yes, we are in a wealthy area, with an Area Median Income of $91,600 for big chunks of eastern Massachusetts. People earning 50 percent of AMI are earning $45,800. If that person is a single parent, things are tough.

As rental costs go up, more tenants are being stretched to cover their basic life costs. These costs are: housing, utilities, food, transportation, child care, personal and household needs, health care, taxes, (less) tax credit.

This burden of high rent, which causes people to stretch to spend more than 30 percent on housing gets that much worse when they rent an apartment that is a heating fuel hog.

Now a word to the landlords out there:

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Avoid the “Professional Tenant”

Posted by Rona Fischman February 22, 2012 01:58 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein writes about every landlord's nightmare and how to avoid trouble.

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 the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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, or community activists types
• 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, the Professional Tenant 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 law’s requirement 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.

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When it comes to high rents, Greater Boston ranks No. 2

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 19, 2012 06:12 AM

Or so says rental market tracker HotPads, which puts Boston just behind New York when it comes to high rents.

The average listing price for a two bedroom in Boston and the western suburbs is just under $2,000 a month, according to HotPads. The New York metro market weighs in around $2,500 a month.

And we are just getting started here, with rising demand and an increasingly tight market fueling predictions of double digit increases for 2012.

It's a trend that not only has renters on edge, but some landlords as well.

In fact, one of the Boston area's most prolific apartment developers is already warning of a potential backlash.

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Fair Housing

Posted by Rona Fischman January 16, 2012 02:09 PM

Today, our Monday guy, Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team, discusses Fair Housing.

Since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, I couldn?t think of anything more appropriate than a post about fair housing rights and responsibilities.

Federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, including insurance and lending, on the basis of a person?s:

? Race
? Color
? National Origin
? Religion
? Age
? Gender
? Sexual Orientation
? Disability
? Family Status (i.e. presence of or potential for children, unmarried vs. married parents, single parent)
? Source(s) of income (i.e. public assistance programs like Section 8 or welfare)

The list above details the ?protected classes? of people that are covered by fair housing laws.

People often ask if a landlord can refuse to rent to smokers or students.
Since smokers and students are not protected classes, fair housing laws do not protect them.

The most obvious way to violate a person?s fair housing rights is to decide not to rent or sell to them. Less obvious discrimination includes:
? Telling a real estate agent not to show the property to members of a protected class
? Negotiating differently with a member of a protected class
? Offering different information or terms to members of protected classes (i.e. request a higher deposit, offer different lease terms, or prepare the property differently for them)
? Performing different levels of employment, income or credit investigations for members of protected classes.

Discrimination is illegal whether intentional or not. I would go as to say that eliminating as much subjective decision making as possible from the process is not only good practice for landlords, sellers and agents, but it is their responsibility.

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Looking to change apartments? Wait until spring

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 13, 2012 07:02 AM

That's the advice of rental market tracker RentJuice.

Only about 20 percent of apartment listings in the Boston area - defined as Boston and the inner ring of suburbs - are available for immediate occupancy in January, RentJuice reports.

But that number soars to 63 percent when it comes to apartments available for rent in April.

Still, if you are in a jam and need to move now, consider Everett, Chelsea or Dorchester, or for that matter Braintree and West Roxbury, where 60 percent of the listings are available now.

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Time for another housing bailout?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 9, 2012 05:59 AM

That's what Ben Bernanke appears to be suggesting.

The Federal Reserve recently fired off a white paper to Congress chock full of ideas for stabilizing the housing market, Bloomberg reports.

While job growth has picked up, the housing market is still headed in the opposite direction, threatening the economy as a whole, the Fed contends.

More than $7 trillion in housing equity has vanished - more than half of what was on the books in 2006 before the housing bubble burst. Overall, prices have fallen 33 percent since then, the Fed notes in its report.

Fortunately, no one is talking about home buyer tax credits anymore - one of the most disastrous economic gimmicks of modern times.

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Is $1,500 a month for a “micro-unit” fair?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 22, 2011 06:36 AM

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wants to lure young entrepreneurs to the city's emerging waterfront district, currently home to the ICA, the convention center and a scattering of upscale apartment and office high-rises.

So city officials, working with developers, want to build "micro-units" as small as 300-to-375-square-feet as bait to lure young tech talent from Cambridge and beyond.

But there is one big, macro-sized problem to the micro-unit idea, and it's the rent, set at $1,500 a month.

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Prices are down, but so is affordability

Posted by Rona Fischman December 16, 2011 02:14 PM

The report card on affordable housing is in. Affordable housing has failed in 2011. As you go about your celebrations this December, consider that a full time income is not enough to rent a two-bedroom apartment for many people. For some, one full time job does not cover a median-priced one-bedroom apartment.

Researchers at the Center for Housing Policy took a look at this question: have falling home prices brought housing within reach of the retail workers who are critical to the success of the gift-giving supply chain?

Nationally, the answer is “no.”

“Despite years of falling home prices, many of the workers most visible during the holiday season are unable to afford a place of their own,” said Center researcher and report co-author Laura Williams. “And the problem is not limited to homeownership. In many cities, rentals are also beyond the reach of workers in the jobs we examined.”

None of the 210 metro areas studied in Paycheck to Paycheck offered a fair-market rent on a two-bedroom apartment affordable on a retail salesperson’s salary, and in only 2 out of 210 markets could a janitor afford the mortgage on a median-priced home. In the most expensive markets covered, even relatively high-earning mail carriers could not afford the typical rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

In the Boston area it is even worse. Cambridge and Boston both appear in the top fifteen most expensive purchase markets. They are tied for sixteenth place on the rental list.

Elementary school teachers, police officers, and nurses join janitors in not being able to buy a house here. Nurses can’t afford to rent a median two-bedroom apartment on their salary alone. You can look up some other occupations here.

The picture is bleak when the income needed to rent a two-bedroom apartment is almost $54,000 a year. No wonder so many young people are packing in with their parents until they can get ahead a bit.

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Has moving back home in with the parents become too easy an option?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 5, 2011 06:59 AM

Yes, the wretched economy is seeing more recent college grads than ever return home.

Check out Rona's great blog on this trend - one survey found that 85 percent of the Class of 2011 planned to move back home.

But is there more than just pure economics behind this shift? Has the prospect of camping out with mom and dad simply lost its stigma and now presents a warm and cozy alternative?

Earlier generations of college students struggled mightily to avoid moving back with their parents. I know, having entered the labor force back in 1991, when New England was slammed with one of the worst downturns it had ever seen.

The idea of returning home and camping out in the basement was a fate worse than death. To me, it seemed nothing less than a gut-wrenching admission of defeat - that my hard work in college and my dreams of launching a career had been all for naught.

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What’s your personality? Are you a buyer or a renter?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 2, 2011 06:12 AM

Yes, personality could be the deciding factor in whether you are better off renting long-term or buying.

That's my take on new research, soon to be published in Real Estate Economics, by Eli Beracha of East Carolina University and Ken H. Johnson of Florida International University.

The title says it all: "Lessons from Over 30 Years of Buy versus Rent Decisions: Is the American Dream Always Wise?"

And the short answer, after getting a chance to read through the entire paper the other day, is that renting can indeed trump buying, at least on a purely financial basis. But it's also clear that to make renting a successful financial strategy for you, you need to have the right mix of personality and personal circumstance as well.

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How many are living in their parents' basement?

Posted by Rona Fischman December 1, 2011 01:53 PM

One description of “a loser” is someone who is out of college and sleeping in his/her parents’ basement. I am not sure when it started, but early comments on this blog included insults of that nature. The idea that parental generosity allowed for a room in the basement did not especially strike me as real. Are you living in your parent’s house? Do you have a room nicer than the old playroom near the boiler? I would think you could at least get the room with the Good Charlotte posters back.

During family time at Thanksgiving, my nephew Nate brought up that there is “huge” numbers of college graduates living with their parents and still unemployed. When I got back to work, I headed back to my computer to take a look on line.
I did some quick research. I found the figure of 85 percent of graduates from the class of 2011 planned to move back home.

I kept looking.

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Is the toga party over?

Posted by Rona Fischman November 16, 2011 02:54 PM

Richard D. Vetstein discusses a court case today about student housing.

In a decision which will significantly impact landlords renting apartments to students near local colleges and universities and perhaps beyond Boston and Amherst, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that renting to 4 or more unrelated students in one apartment unit is an illegal “lodging house” unless a special license is obtained.

In City of Worcester v. College Hill Properties LLC (Mass. App. Ct. Nov. 8, 2011), several landlords renting to Holy Cross students challenged the legality of the Massachusetts lodging housing law. The law requires a lodging housing license for any unit rented to four or more unrelated adults. City of Worcester officials cited the College Hill landlords for renting to 4 students in each apartment unit, without a proper license and without sprinkler systems. The students all signed a 12 month lease. The Housing Court sided with the city, and when the landlords balked, found them in contempt.

Lodging housing law
Although enacted nearly a hundred years ago in 1918, the court found that the lodging house law has relevance today with respect to the common practice of overcrowding persons in an unsuitable space and fire prevention. To obtain a lodging house license, an applicant must have sprinkler systems in the premises, which most landlords find too expensive to install.

The landlords argued that a group of four college students was a “family unit” not lodgers. While the landlords get credit for creative lawyering, the court didn’t buy the argument, holding that “we have no doubt that four or more unrelated adults, sharing housing while attending college, is not an arrangement that lends itself to the formation of a stable and durable household.”

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Election Day, yard signs, and flying witches

Posted by Rona Fischman November 4, 2011 01:48 PM

Election day is next Tuesday.
While walking in a residential area of Cambridge, I came upon a corner where there were three opposing candidate’s yard signs posted. Granted, in Cambridge there are 18 people competing for 9 seats. Cambridge has proportional representation, so a voter can vote for all 18, as long as each one is ranked with a unique number. (If two are ranked #15, neither gets credit for that vote.)
At first glance, I expected “So and So, vote #1,” “Such and So, vote #2…” Instead, they all said “vote #1.” It made me curious about the meaning of the three signs.

A. Was there one person who supports all three? Was he/she hoping that voters would choose all three for positions 1, 2, 3? Was he/she getting the favored candidate’s names out for as many voters as possible?

B. Were there three people living at the property who support different candidates? Were the signs competing?

It is the latter -- three people with different ideas – that brings me to the real estate questions of the day. In a two or three family house or condo, who has authority to decorate the yard? That would include electoral yard signs, but also Halloween, Christmas, and Easter decorations.

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Hip equals high rent, survey finds

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 21, 2011 06:25 AM

Hipsters rejoice! Or maybe not after you find out what's happening with rents in your oh-so-cool neighborhoods.

If you had any lingering doubts that you live in some of the most desired zip codes in Greater Boston, RentJuice's latest survey of local rents should put you at ease.

While rents leveled off in many parts of Greater Boston as summer faded into fall, they kept on rising in already pricey Davis Square and Newton Centre.

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Can surge in apartment construction really keep rents in check?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 17, 2011 06:25 AM

A wave of new rental towers is coming your way.

Thousands of new apartments are either under construction or about to start across Boston and in the suburbs as well.

This surge in building activity comes with apartment rents soaring amid rising demand as home and condo sales sputter.

After decades of little new rental construction, it is a welcome sight.

End of story? Well hardly, for there are some real things to be concerned about here as well.

After all, will this improve life for the majority of Boston area renters out there, instead of simply providing more choices for upwardly mobile young professionals?

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Stormy end to rental season

Posted by Rona Fischman September 2, 2011 02:06 PM

The biggest moving weekend of the year coincided with heavy rains and winds as Tropical Storm Irene hit Massachusetts. By the time she got here, she still had lots of blow and rain. The storm tracked somewhat west of Boston. Massachusetts and Connecticut had enough wind damage to cause power outages for over a million people. In New York City and on Long Island, there were large-scale evacuations, which went pretty peacefully. The neighborhood I grew up in was underwater. (Thanks to Mr516Rockstar for the virtual tour.)

Bad timing. This was the weekend when colleges opened their dorms. Students and academic-based staff were scheduled to move, en masse, that Saturday and Sunday. Chaos ensued. Some colleges had early move-ins; some had late. The same thing happened with apartment dwellers.

Remember my nephew Dan? He had some drama on Thursday. The early move-in that had been arranged by the landlord fell through, last minute. But good will prevailed. Dan moved in, as planned. He squatted in an empty room that is not the one he’ll have for the year. He came into Boston with my brother and sister-in-law and moved in during the downpour on Saturday afternoon. He began his Ph.D. program on Monday, as scheduled.

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They are definitely here

Posted by Rona Fischman August 26, 2011 02:12 PM

This weekend, my nephew Dan arrives in Boston to begin his Ph.D. program. We were planning to celebrate with a walking tour of Boston. Student Season is coming in like a lion, this year, thanks to Hurricane Irene. We will probably skip the walking tour. Dan and thousands of others will find themselves moving in the rain. What's the worst weather you ever moved in? Can you beat the stories this year's emigrants will tell?

In general, I am not celebrating the beginning of the school year because it is the beginning of traffic season. All summer, I have been enjoying relatively easy parking and generally lighter traffic. Since I am in the car a lot, I notice this. Do you? But, I am a generous person. Therefore, I refrain from taking it out on the new arrivals, as they drive badly – being lost – on our convoluted streets.

My first undergraduate siting of this season was last week. A young woman of the right age was drifting down Highland Avenue in Somerville at about 15 mile per hour. She was relieved to see me waiting on the sidewalk. I stepped out and gave her directions to I-95 south.

It made me wonder. What are the best directions: the most direct way or the way that is least likely to get one lost? Last week, I chose the latter, because the young lady from Foxboro seemed a bit frazzled.

Our road system is not one of the high points in the greater Boston standard of living.

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Lease to own arrangements

Posted by Rona Fischman August 22, 2011 02:32 PM

Today, Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team writes about lease to own arrangements. It's a way for tenants to become owners and a way for accidental landlords to sell.

What is leasing to own?
Under a lease to own agreement, a potential buyer leases a property from the owner using an agreement that allows the buyer/tenant to purchase the property at the end of the lease period, typically at a pre-determined price.

Usually a portion of the rent goes toward the down payment. If the buyer/tenant does not buy at the end of the lease period, the amount set aside for the deposit is often forfeited. (Note that lenders want to see proof of a separate account for the tenant's portion of the rent being used toward the down payment.)

Who benefits?
This arrangement can benefit sellers who are having trouble selling their property and do not want to leave it vacant.

Buyer's who have had "credit events" or other issues that prevent them from qualifying for a mortgage for a pre-determined amount of time are ideal candidates for a lease to own arrangement. (Prospective buyer/tenants are likely to have experienced recent divorces, death of a spouse, extended unemployment prior to current employment, job transfers, etc. Many have good income and credit but need more time to qualify for a mortgage based on their new circumstances or they need to accumulate a larger down-payment.)


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How many people have had a chance to copy your apartment key?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 19, 2011 02:05 PM

In the 1980s, I lived in a building with three units above a store. The front door, leading to the stairway, had a good, sturdy deadbolt lock. Our apartment had a flimsy, hollow-core door. Being young, and not owning much, I wasn’t thinking much about security.

At some point about four months after we moved in, there was a guy wandering the hall outside our apartment. I asked if I could help him. He said he was looking for his sister. He was a different race than anyone else who lived there. But, being young, and not owning much, I wasn’t thinking much about security.

About two weeks later, our apartment was burglarized. Being young, and not owning much, I didn’t lose all that much. They got some jewelry and the boom box and a leather jacket. Someone in my office said that they went Christmas shopping.

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Here in Greater Boston, renters, not buyers, still have the numbers on their side

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 16, 2011 08:30 AM

It is now cheaper to buy a house than rent an apartment in 74 percent of the nation's largest metro markets, Trulia's latest Rent vs. Buy Index finds.

That is just about everywhere else except for Greater Boston, which is one of the few holdouts in this trend towards dramatically cheaper homes.

OK, it's hardly a surprise that Las Vegas, the original foreclosure basket case, tops the list of markets where it's far cheaper to buy than rent.

The same goes for Detroit, where you could probably pick up a home for practically nothing if you are willing to take your chances on the sputtering Motor City.

But there are also a lot of fairly attractive metro markets where buying a home now makes more sense than renting.

It's a group that includes Baltimore and Charlotte, Atlanta and Minneapolis, Chicago and Sacramento.

Yet while home prices have plunged around the country, the decline in the Boston area has been far more tentative.

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What is in the attic?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 3, 2011 01:46 PM

Today, I am writing about unsafe conditions I have seen in attics (and basements.) Paying attention to this counts as both a rental issue and a buying issue.If you have any additional questions this rental season, write me.

I am not so naïve as to think that all workers do house renovations to code. Many renovations are done by homeowners or their paid help that are way-way-way out of code. The attic is a place where I’ve seen some whoppers.

Absolutely the worst:
Early in my career, I saw this: The seller had put paneling (the 70s kind) along the walls and the sloping roof line all the way to the peak. What was he thinking? Well, he was thinking he wanted more ceiling height and the wood going across the attic at about 5 feet up was in the way. He (or she, but this was probably a he) didn’t do any checking to find out why the roof framing was built that way to begin with. He removed the wood that was in his way.

When I showed this house, the ceiling paneling was bowing in. When we went outside, the exterior walls were bowing out. What was going on? The owner had removed the collar ties that support the roof. Years later, that roof was collapsing.

More common mistakes:
In our old housing stock there are lots and lots of “finished” attics that have bedrooms in them. Even if they have been bedrooms since the 20s, it doesn’t make them safe bedrooms. I frequently see personal belongings that show that people have been living in these rooms for many years. They were lucky that no one was hurt in the time they used those rooms. Neither owners nor renters should have been sleeping there.

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Scare the tenant season

Posted by Rona Fischman July 29, 2011 01:52 PM

Here we are in the last week of July. Just in time for the annual Scare-the-Renters season. Renters, I warned you that the high-demand season is at the end of July through August. If you are still looking, or haven’t started yet, you need to keep your wits about you. Expect stories like this to pop up in the popular media. Your job: ignore it. Concentrate on your goal to find a rental for this year. Evaluate each apartment you see and do not fear that it is the only place you may get to see.

To agent or not to agent?
A good agent is paying attention to the databases. The agent has relationships with landlords. A good agent is organized and presents the required disclosures. Good agents are out there, but they are hard to find.
Too many agents read the MLS and open the door for you and consider that a job well done. The agents who depend on only the MLS are worse than useless in rentals. More resourceful agents use the sources that you have: Craig’s list, Wicked Local, Boston.com as well as their personal contacts.

If you want to look for an agent, ask where they find the apartments they show. If they use MLS alone, move on. If they use public sources, too, at least they are thinking. Agents who “knows all the landlords, for years” will have apartments to show you. Set your standards high so that you don’t get shown the dogs that the favorite landlord can’t rent to someone with choices. The agent gets paid if you find a place worth renting; demand that you see good places.

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Cambridge now the top rental market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 29, 2011 07:48 AM

Move over Back Bay and Beacon Hill. The 1980s and 1990s were good for you, but there is a new king of the rental market across the Charles.

Asking rents in part of Cambridge are now rivaling or even topping those in Back Bay and Beacon Hill - no small feat given some of the outrageous rents some owners of downtown Boston luxury condos are now seeking.

And vacancy is arguably even tighter - Tory Row Real Estate's Arthur Horiatis pegs the Cambridge apartment vacancy rate at about 1 percent.

That's down from a still tight - but more terrestrial - 4 to 5 percent just a few years ago.

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Suddenly single, suddenly renting

Posted by Rona Fischman July 27, 2011 02:17 PM

One of the common ways that people go from being homeowners to being renters is by being divorced. Someone on this blog asked how many homes are sold as a result of divorce. I don’t know. It is a lot, but I have been unable to find good statistics on that. Anyone know? Divorce one of the reasons that I prefer to be a buyer’s agent. I’d rather represent the couple buying than the one splitting up and selling.

I have represented newly single home buyers. I recommend that they rent an interim place so that they can get more settled before buying. Sometimes it takes time to get the financial part of the divorce settled; sometimes it takes time to get the emotional part of the divorce settled; sometimes both; rarely neither.

Do you agree that renting is a good decision just after divorce? Did you rent? Did you buy immediately, and then regret it? Did you buy immediately and land happily in your new single life?

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Greater Boston fifth most expensive market - for renters

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 25, 2011 07:16 AM

Now how's that for a double whammy?

Despite the housing downturn, the Boston area still has some of the highest home prices in the country.

Now, with the exodus of homeowners into the rental market, we have some of highest apartment rents as well.

Greater Boston is No. 5 in the country, behind only New York and its suburbs and San Francisco, the Globe reports, citing a new survey by Somerville-based RentalBeast.com.

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In rentals, size matters

Posted by Rona Fischman July 21, 2011 02:02 PM

The housing stock in the Boston area is a large part of the problem for renters, and especially renters who need more than two bedrooms. According to RentJuice, one-bedroom and two-bedroom rental units are much more common. See page 4. This makes people who need three or more bedrooms scramble to find one of the limited number of available units. This may be part of the problem for families with children who rent. Big units are also attractive to students and young adults for group housing, putting further demand on these larger rental units.

Recent conversations we’ve been having about moving to the suburbs have brought out comments that people move to the suburbs for more room – both inside the house and between houses. Readers also mentioned that urban properties are too small or the large ones are too expensive. Did the size of available living spaces in your price range push you into the suburbs when you needed more than two bedrooms?

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As rents rise, these neighborhoods lead the pack

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 19, 2011 06:51 AM

Here are the four most expensive Boston/Cambridge neighborhoods for renters:

  • Kendall Square - average asking price of $2,760.
  • East Cambridge - average asking price of $2,732
  • Seaport - average asking price of $2,711
  • Charlestown - average asking price of $2,515

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What happens if a landlord is in default?

Posted by Rona Fischman July 15, 2011 06:28 PM

We are in peak rental season. Throughout August, expect bumper-to-bumper U-Hauls throughout rental areas around Boston. Renters, I hope you get good place with a good landlord. Here's my advice on how to avoid big problems:

Think of a landlord-tenant interview like you should think of a job interview. You may think you want that job, but you should also be interviewing the boss to make sure you really want it. Some jobs are worse than no job. The same is true of apartments.

Problems run rampant for tenants who rent from landlords who are failing financially. When they are foreclosed upon, your deposits are put in line with all the other creditors. Right, you are not at the top of the list. Community Action Agencies (Federal anti-poverty programs) like Community Action Agency of Somerville are flooded with tenants who have lost their apartments and their deposits due to their landlord’s foreclosure. Your lease does not protect you from eviction if the owner of your rental undergoes foreclosure.

So how do you protect yourself? My guess is it won’t fly to ask your prospective landlord for a credit score. Even worse would be to ask for the landlord’s social security number and permission to run your own credit check. So what info is legally available and helpful?

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Choosing a rental, for beginners

Posted by Rona Fischman July 8, 2011 02:06 PM


I advised mt nephew Dan to look carefully at the apartments, their location, his landlord, and his future roommates.

He roommate-shopped on Craig’s list. He mapped the places. He looked at the street views. He checked his commute to Northeastern. He discriminated on the basis of location in regard to commute, safety, and something intangible that said “pleasant” to him.

He lined up 4 or 5 places to see on a Saturday. The he looked carefully at the people involved in his future rental. He had two duds:

Dud number one was a place with an iffy location. The walk from the T stop to the apartment was pretty isolated and uncomfortable. The street was treeless and unhappy-looking. The roommates were flaky; having changed the appointment three times. That was enough to rule it out.

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Once a relative haven, renting gets pricey again

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 7, 2011 06:08 AM

The rental market has been a good place for many to ride out the real estate storm.

But it looks like the days of hanging out in your relatively cheap apartment and laughing at all those supposedly foolish homeowners stuck with big mortgages is fast coming to an end.

If it sounds like I am gloating, I'm not, though I am one of those supposedly foolhardy homeowners oh-so-smug renters enjoy poking fun at.

Dallas-based Axiometrics forecasts a nearly 6 percent jump nationally in apartment rents this year.

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The successful rental search

Posted by Rona Fischman June 30, 2011 01:57 PM

I mentioned last week that my nephew, Dan, was in town for a roommate rental hunt. I was pleased that he took my advice and avoided the late July to August rental rush. In an early entry here at BREN, I made fun to the annual scare-the-tenants articles that appeared the last weekend of July or first weekend of August, every year, back when The Boston Globe was still running a full real estate section.

If you are looking for a rental, you are too late by the middle of July. It is a simple supply and demand situation. Because of the huge number of people who live here on an academic schedule, there are large numbers of people leaving town in May and June. There are large numbers of people moving to the area or trading to a better apartment in June, July and August. The biggest supply is in June and early July. The highest demand is in late July and August.

Think about it.

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Young adults renting their first place

Posted by Rona Fischman June 23, 2011 01:54 PM

I kick off the rental season with an encore with the advice that I gave in 2008. That summer my eldest nephew, Nate, moved to Somerville after graduating from U Conn. He has since been joined by his cousin, Heather (and undergrad) and his brother Dan (a Ph.D. candidate at Northeastern.)

Before Dan started roommate shopping, his father (my brother) called me to ask about whether he should buy a kiddie condo (not his term) or a multi-family house near Northeastern, since Dan will be there 5-7 years. Those of you who know read me regularly know that I told him Dan should rent.

Since 2008, rents are higher and sales prices are lower, but not enough for me and for my family. At the end of 2010, I ran the numbers on two-family housing and they came up short.

Here’s the advice I gave Nate in 2008. It still holds for Dan and my brother David:

The Boston Globe just published two articles about young adult housing. One discussed how recent graduates should not jump into buying a condo or starter home.

The second Boston Globe article reports that higher number of juniors and seniors are choosing dormitory housing because of increased costs.
The first one makes points worth repeating:

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Man bites bank, again

Posted by Rona Fischman June 21, 2011 01:29 PM

A while back, the same thing happened to Wells Fargo. Now it has happened to Bank of America. You’d think the banks would learn.

Bank of America foreclosed on someone who didn’t have a Bank of America mortgage. The owners say they had no mortgage at all. The judge charged the legal costs to Bank of America and the Bank commenced ignoring their debt. Whoever was in charge of paying this court bill did exactly what a lot of homeowners in trouble have been doing: He or she didn’t answer letters, didn’t answer phone calls, and generally ignored the problem. When a bill is delinquent, the last thing you should do is ignore the person you owe. Ignore it and it only gets worse. Doesn’t BOA know that after chasing delinquent homeowners for the past four years? Tee hee.

Foreclosure is no laughing matter for homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages. Help and advice are available. The worst thing you can do is to act like the person in charge of paying the court fees at Bank of America. Go to the next page for some serious information about foreclosure.

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Family unfriendly landlords

Posted by Rona Fischman June 15, 2011 02:16 PM

Every year at this time, I discuss the rental market. Richard D. Vetstein starts us off.

With the start of summer, Rona asked me to review rental discrimination law.

Earlier this year, the Attorney General sued a Metro-Boston landlord for evicting or threatened to evict tenants with young children, renting apartments containing lead paint to tenants with young children, failing to abate lead hazards in those apartments, failing to provide proper notice of lead hazards to his tenants, and making misrepresentations regarding the presence of lead paint in his apartments. The complaint further alleges that the landlord retaliated against tenants when they reported him for violations of the law.

Unfortunately, many Greater Boston landlords aren’t prosecuted by the AG’s office and are allowed to impose family unfriendly and unlawful housing practices like advertising that “Unit Not Deleaded.” The ad, while albeit truthful, it might as well read “Children Under 6 Not Wanted.”

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Soaring rents sign of apartment market bubble?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 13, 2011 08:21 AM

Ah, the good old days. When you could get a bargain on a decent apartment and gloat while your friends grappled with Greater Boston's perpetually inflated home prices.

No more. After years of quietly riding out the real estate storm, renters across the Boston area are suddenly finding themselves in the midst of what could be the area's newest real estate bubble.

While home prices have started falling again in many towns and cities across the state, apartment rents have been on a tear.

Boston just barely missed the top 10 markets in the country in terms of rent increases - it ranks No. 12 in a list compiled by Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Rent here and buy elsewhere: One reader’s idea for escaping the Greater Boston home price trap

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 31, 2011 08:00 AM

Here's an idea tossed to me by a renter sitting on the sidelines.

Yearning for a meaningful decline in Greater Boston's perpetually inflated home prices, but apparently tired of waiting, he's looking into buying a vacation home while continuing to rent here.

Not necessarily here in Massachusetts, but in another state where prices are easier to get your arms around.

It's an intriguing idea, to say the least. Rent here and avoid breaking the bank to buy in Newton or Arlington and instead become a homeowner in pretty little East Nowheresville.

The fact is, armed with $150,000 - roughly the median price nationally of a home - and you can do well for yourself in many other states and metro markets.(Here that gets you a grim looking one bedroom, garden style apartment/condo along a busy highway.)

And really, unless you believe the world ends at 495, there are actually a lot of other nice places to live in this world.

After all, it's not hard to beat our crummy weather and terrible traffic.

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Good time to become a landlord?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 28, 2011 06:33 AM

OK, we all know renting is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative.

But what about taking the plunge and becoming a landlord yourself?

The numbers right now appear to be lining up for a long-term surge in renting.

The national vacancy rate is down to 9.4 percent - the lowest since 2003.

And the pool of renters is growing by the day. Foreclosures have turned millions of one-time homeowners into renters, many of them permanently.

There's not just demand, but a lack of decent supply as well. New rental construction has long been a laggard - there's growing demand not just for more apartments, but for a wider variety.

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A roof overhead this winter

Posted by Rona Fischman December 22, 2010 02:17 PM

Although I have a bit of a “sunshine and lollipops” reputation about my area, I know that foreclosures are happening everywhere. Boingboing just printed these nifty directions about how to get to the foreclosure interface on Google Maps.

1. Punch any US address into Google Maps.
2. Your options are Earth, Satellite, Map, Traffic and . . . More. (Select "More")
3. The drop down menu gives you a check box option for "Real Estate."
4. The left column will give you several options (You may have to select "Show Options”
5. Check the box marked "Foreclosure."

At Thanksgiving, I wrote about homelessness. Today, on the doorstep of Christmas, think about foreclosure. Some of you have a “they deserve it” attitude. I don’t want to fight that fight today.

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The rise of renter nation

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 17, 2010 07:54 AM

Don't feel like taking a ride on this roller coaster of a real estate market? Opting to rent, at least for now, instead of buying?

If so, you are not alone, according to a new survey of thousands of renters and homeowners across the nation by Fannie Mae.

Two key stats: The number of those who plan to continue to rent rose to nearly 60 percent from 54 percent at the start of 2010, while those planning to choose the apartment living over homeownership when it comes to their next move hit 33 percent, a 10 percent jump over the same time period.

The young and mobile are leading the way here - the homeownership rate among those 25 to 29 has plunged 11 percent from the bubble years.

Still, whether we see a longer-term, sizable shift towards renting - where it is seen as a viable, welcome option even for those with the means to buy - remains to be seen.

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Take away tenant's right to vote

Posted by Rona Fischman December 3, 2010 01:43 PM

Tenants beware. The Tea Party President (correction: Tea Party Nation President) Judson Phillips believes

“If you rent your house or apartment, then you should not have the right to vote...”
"The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. [emphasis mine.] If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."

I mentioned around Election Day, 2008, that white adult male tenants were granted the right to vote in 1850. Should we turn back to clock on this? Really??

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Hurt by negligence

Posted by Rona Fischman November 26, 2010 02:55 PM

On a Sunday afternoon I found myself face-down in the grass in front of my clients. What happened? While walking into a house for sale, my left foot found an 8 or 9-inch-deep hole. With that foot stuck, I fell forward with my next step. Luckily, I landed basically in one piece.

“Talk about homeowner liability!” says my client. He’s right. The hole looked like it was made for a fence post in the grassy area next to the curb. Maybe the sign-setters changed their mind and then forgot to fill it in. This accident is a pretty clear bit of negligence. Yet, I find it funny how people think: Accident… person hurt… who can be sued?

Fear of liability claims motivates some people to stay away from home ownership altogether. But liability comes up most often for people who are thinking about buying rental property. Why is that? Are we more afraid of legal tangling with a tenant than we are about hurting someone in our family? Surely not!

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Landlords, what repairs are too silly?

Posted by Rona Fischman November 19, 2010 01:53 PM

Every landlord needs to find his/her own balance. If the rent is competitive and the apartment is nice, a landlord can choose from a larger pool of tenants. That increases the odds of getting a tenant who reliably pays the rent, takes care of the place, and is not high-maintenance. Slumlords get slummy tenants and no one is happy. But how many tenant requests is a landlord required to do?

P. asked me:

What to do when tenant wants a repair when you think the repair is silly (one loose tile in 100 sq ft of tile)?
What happens when appliances fail in the rental (frig, dish washer etc)?

Like all things in landlord-tenant relationships, there should be room for discretion and negotiation. There is a lot of variation in expectation based on whether the rental is expensive for its type, competitive, or cheap.

The tenant is not being high-maintenance if the tenant is paying through the nose. If the apartment is top-of-the-line and is drawing a top-of-the-line rental charge, then that tile better be fixed. You, as a landlord, are collecting rent on luxury and need to provide luxury.

For a place with a moderate rental fee, if the kitchen looks fine -- except if you get on your hands and knees and stare at the floor – that’s different. It is reasonable to expect moderate rent-payers to accept imperfection until you get around to making cosmetic changes. If it really bothers them, you might do it to feel on the side of the angels. Do beware of the unintended consequences: once you do a silly repair, you may open the door for more silly repair requests.

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Landlord tax deductions, for beginners

Posted by Rona Fischman November 12, 2010 02:33 PM

There are significant tax advantages for a landlord. In contrast, single family and condo homeowners who are not landlords can deduct the interest paid on their mortgage.For the owner-occupant, that’s all the tax advantages that currently exist. All owners should keep track of expenses in caring for the home. Those costs come off any profit made upon sale, for tax purposes. (Capital gains limits are high, so this doesn't come into play much.)

Landlords run their rentals as a business. The business of being a landlord has its own tax schedule, Schedule E.

These are the records a landlord needs to keep for their accountant or tax preparer:
1. Total rent income.
2. Repair expenditures, detailed with date, who was paid, and what was done.
3. Maintenance expenditures, which include cleaning costs, trash pick-up fees and such.
4. Total property insurance.
5. Interest payment on the mortgage.
6. Property tax payment for the property.
7. Total water bill. If the landlord pays utilities, then utility bills, too.
8. Incidental bills related to renting, like fees for credit checks, bank fees, tax preparation, fees for management, fees for expenses to collect the rent, legal fees.

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Wear and tear, or is it damage?

Posted by Rona Fischman November 5, 2010 02:31 PM

One person’s “normal wear and tear” is another person’s “damage.” Tenants and landlords, let’s do some defining!

RentLaw.com doesn’t do a good job of defining wear and tear and damages. But, this site and many others recommend having a walk through with tenant and landlord to establish and document the condition of the apartment before tenancy. Good advice for being on solid ground about the change in condition, but it doesn’t get to a definition.

Rental housing on line does a much better job.

Normal wear and tear includes deterioration of the premises that occurs during normal conditions. For example, paint may fade, electrical switches may wear out and break, pull strings on blinds may fray or break, carpet and tile may wear down. These things happen even if the tenant cleans regularly and cares for the premises reasonably.
Damage occurs from unreasonable , use or accidents Damage can include extreme build up of dirt, mold, etc., stains on carpets, and broken windows. Even intentional alterations to the premises are considered damage. For example, the tenant cannot leave large holes in the walls from shelving or hanging pictures , and cannot repaint the walls to significantly change the color. If a tenant wants to make changes to the premises that will remain after the tenant moves out, the tenant should do so only with the landlord's written permission.

Thinking as a landlord or as a tenant, I wouldn't find that definition definative enough. What do you think? Here's another one, that I like a little better:

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Landlord-tenant: Farewell to the party girls

Posted by Rona Fischman October 29, 2010 02:00 PM

I’ve had pretty good luck as a small-property landlord. But, one summer, my luck almost ran out. The bottom line of land-lording is that if your house is not up to code, you are in the hot-seat if something bad happens there. No matter how drunk or stupid your tenants are. Most houses are not up to code.

My blood pressure spiked when I read about Garfield versus Scott. That was the case where drunken tenants fell off a porch. The SJC ruled that rentals have “implied habitability.” Therefore, the landlord with the weak porch rail owed $450,000.

I had a drunken tenant incident and I got very lucky.

I have a flat roof over my home office. There is a door in the back hall leading onto its roof. Until I put in flooring and railings there, it is off limits. There was a sign there, at the locked door, marked “emergency exit only.” It was used once, to my knowledge. That was when the tenants used it to move a refrigerator in.

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Lending rules for accidental landlords

Posted by Rona Fischman October 22, 2010 02:04 PM

Accidental landlords are owners of a “departure residence.” That’s the house or condo that was left behind when the owner bought and moved into another house or condo.

Today, I describe the qualifying rules in regard to what rental income counts and under what conditions it counts. There are equity requirements before the rent counts at all. And… reserve requirements.

If a borrower does not have enough income to qualify for mortgages on both properties, he/she will need to prove that there will be rental income to help cover the cost of the new property’s mortgage. A borrower cannot count rental income based on a rental appraisal. Those days were gone by 2008. In 2008, the rules changed to require proof that there is a real renter with real money. That proof was a one-year, or longer, lease and proof of paid first month’s rent or security deposit. Then 75 percent of the rent will be counted, in most places. (There are some exceptions because of expected vacancy rates.)

In 2008, the borrower also had to have 25 percent equity in the soon-to-be rental. Now, it is up to 30 percent equity.

A borrower has to show that he/she has two months reserve on the PITI of both the departure residence and the new property.

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Landlord-tenant: What to do about the chill in the air

Posted by Rona Fischman October 15, 2010 02:09 PM

Last winter, I asked about whether gas was the strongly preferred heating fuel in New England. At that time, DotGirl3 made a comment that belongs in our landlord-tenant series.

dotgirl3 wrote: … it is nearly impossible to rent an oil heated home compared to gas heat. For most renters coming up with a big lump sum at an arbitrary time to fill the tank can be a budget buster. I do have gas and prefer gas, I can do direct vent and I have a gas-fired tankless hot water heater that is awesome. A property would have to be pretty spectacular for me to consider oil…

There are still large areas that have no gas service. So, oil remains a major heating fuel. If you are in a place where there is a choice, what did you choose and why? Tenants, do you consider the heating fuel when you are shopping for an apartment? Is the lump-sum cost of oil by the tankful a deal-breaker?

Landlords, did you feel a need to convert to gas to make your apartment more attractive to tenants?

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Do you want to be the landlord of a three-family house?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 1, 2010 02:08 PM

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the numbers don’t work for two-family home ownership around Boston, these days.

Shiplesp commented:

How does the price of a three-family unit compare to two-family? One advantage of a three-family is that you rarely have both units vacant, so you always have some income.
The "rule of thumb" that I followed when I bought my three-family is that the price of the house should be paid for by the rents in 7 years. That was possible 10 years ago, I'm not sure it is now.
Anyway, it works out for me because the rents of the other two units cover my mortgage, taxes, insurance, and common utilities.

Prices of two-family homes and three family homes vary very dramatically across the Commonwealth. When I look at Massachusetts, the median cost of a two-family house is $215,000! The median three-family house is less, $200. But that is, obviously, not a good indicator. Multi-family housing stock varies so much, these numbers are meaningless.

The local figures, for my area* are more real to me: $512,000 for two-family homes and $600,000 for three-family homes. Using the $600,000 median, which does match my experience of the past 6 months, here are the same numbers I did before to show how the additional rental unit changes the picture:

Sale price $600,000. Three-family house with 5 rooms, 2 bedrooms downstairs and 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms upstairs and 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms on the third floor. Downstairs rent about $1300. Upstairs rent about $1400. Third unit rent $1400.
Down payment: 25 percent (required for conforming loan) = $150,000
Principal and interest = $2416 at 5 percent interest
PITI about $2900
Gross income about $4100
Return on the $150,000 investment is approximately $1200 per month.

That is assuming no vacancies and costs do not include all the costs we discussed in the last two weeks. The water bill and normal maintenance are not going to be the killer expenses here. We all know that repair and updating is where the money will go.

Ignoring the expenses, do the gross rents pay for the house in 7 years? $4100 X 12 X 7 = $344,400. Not even close.

So Shiplesp, small property ownership -- even with a three family home -- still doesn’t add up. Just like video killed the radio star, condos killed small property ownership around Boston.

Shall we continue on the topic of landlords and tenants? If so, what do you want to know more about?

*my area: Acton, Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Brookline, Cambridge, Concord, Lexington, Medford, Natick, Needham, Newton, Somerville, Sudbury, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Winchester. Data past 6 months from MLSPIN.

How's the rental market for you?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 30, 2010 06:32 AM

Just call it the great rental market squeeze.

Amid all the angst over home prices, there's a big change quietly taking place in the real estate market here in Greater Boston.

Renters are on the rise, even as the number of homeowners falls amid rising foreclosures and increasing hurdles for first-time buyers.

The number of rent paying units across Greater Boston crossed the 600,000 mark in 2009, up more than 20,000 from 2006. Overall, renters now account for 36.6 percent of the Boston area's housing market, up roughly a percent from four years ago.

Meanwhile, the percentage of homeowners has fallen by about the same amount, to 63.4 percent locally, according to housing market estimates for 2009 the U.S. Census Bureau recently released.

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Landlords, an ounce of prevention

Posted by Rona Fischman September 24, 2010 01:59 PM

Last week, I wanted to discuss the mortgage finance end of small-property land lording. The conversation quickly morphed into a discussion of the other expenses. So, I trashed the entry I wrote about what I spent on my house (which mirrored Grasshoppa’s list.)

Today, let’s define those derogatory terms “slumlord” and “slum.” Slummy houses do not have to be in overcrowded, nasty buildings in overcrowded nasty neighborhoods. Slums happen one unit at a time. There are two-family houses that are slums. There are slum units in two-family houses where the owner's unit is nice. I know. As a buyer’s broker, I have seen them.

I also want to define the opposite of slum and slumlord. IMHO, the best bet to not being a slumlord is to have an annual maintenance budget and to practice preventative maintenance.

Your annual budget should include per-year costs on the big components of the property. That way, a $10,000+ electrical upgrade, like mine, doesn’t blindside you. Heating systems, hot water heaters, roof components, exterior siding, and other big ticket items all have a normal life expectancy. Be prepared to replace something important every five years or so.

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The accidental landlord

Posted by Rona Fischman September 10, 2010 01:56 PM

By request, the landlord-tenant hell series is going to explore the question of land lording. In the current market, there are many faced with the prospect of becoming an "accidental landlord." (We have a commenter by that name, too!)

I start with an encore publication of an answer I gave about an “accidental landlord.” First published, October 2008:

One of my clients wrote this:

Hello, I had a question... today I noticed the same house is both for sale and for rent... does this often happen? [Attached here was a link to a rental notice on Trulia for $1,995 a month. This house is on my client’s MLS list for sale around $400,000.] It seems like the way the system works, sellers agents would be very reluctant to see a house offered for rent. I was pleased to see the ratio of price-to-rent was relatively low. I'm curious what, if anything, this means about the state of the Market, as they say.

I answered:

Did you notice that the same agent is doing the rental and the sale? That means he will sell it now, or sell it later. So his disincentive is minimal.
Renting homes that don’t sell is happening more and more in the unstable market. It means that sellers are insecure enough to be willing to rent a place until next spring so they don't need to sell it during the winter slump. Also, he won’t have to heat an empty house all winter.

When someone is selling a home and it isn’t selling, does it make sense to rent it? If you rent it, you are now an accidental landlord.

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Landlord-tenant hell: the end of the season

Posted by Rona Fischman September 3, 2010 02:12 PM

We have now rounded the corner into September and the storm of U-Hauls and out-of-state plates has receded to an intermittent drizzle. I have two topics for today: one is a review of this series; the other is my take on how the rental season influences my life as a buyer’s agent.

First, about the blog:
Are there any last-lick questions about landlords and tenants that have been left unasked and unanswered? Should landlord-tenant Friday continue, come back again next summer, or go away forever as a failed experiment?

Second, about my business. Some of my clients buy based on their rental cycle. This affects my business in a couple of ways:

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Landlord-tenant hell: landlord uncle

Posted by Rona Fischman August 27, 2010 01:51 PM

jackjj2 told his tale of being a newlywed in an in-law apartment:

When I first got married, my wife and I rented half of a walk-out basement apartment from an uncle who had just finished a remodel. He had put in a second kitchen and revamped the bedroom, bathroom, and living room. We had the benefit of cheap rent and a brand-new, fresh apartment.
He went on to identify some of the two biggest problems with such an arrangement:
1. How can you know if the apartment is legal and safe?
2. How do you insure privacy when living in the same house as relative?

I recently discussed in-law apartments with an attorney. He made some distinctions that I agree are important:

1. If the house is zoned in a single family home area, it cannot become a legal two-family house without a variance. Don’t count on getting a variance.
2. An in-law apartment can meet town zoning standards for living space. In that case, some towns will include it in the legitimate living space. This is sometimes called a “legal” in-law apartment because members of the family can live there.
3. Many in-law apartments are not safe, private living space.
4. Even if an in-law apartment is “legal”, it is not available for open rental.Since the house is not zoned as a two-family, only family members can live there.

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Is any apartment truly worth $28,000 a month in rent?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 23, 2010 10:59 AM

Downtown Boston rents have a long way to go before they rival the Big Apple.

But from a survey of the most expensive apartments in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and South End I did last week for the Boston Courant, it looks like we are catching up fast.

Check out this Four Seasons unit - the one with the $28,000 a month rent. Before you can think about walking through that door, you will have to pony up more than $100,000 in first and last month's rent, a security deposit and broker's fee as well.

Boston has long had pricey units for rent, but the explosion in downtown luxury condo development has suddenly flooded the ranks of sky-high rentals.

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Landlord-tenant hell: absentee or owner occupied?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 20, 2010 02:34 PM

My best experiences as a tenant have been in owner-occupied buildings. Second best were with landlords that were very far away. The worst were local absentee landlords. I haven’t lived in a professionally managed building where, I assume, the building care is as good as the workers for that company.

I do not agree with REALMaven at all when he/she wrote:

REALmaven wrote: Three indications of a bad landlord are: 1. They live in the building. 2. They live in the building. 3. They live in the building.

I spend a little less than half my renter-lifetime in owner-occupied buildings. They were the best kept, the quietest, and the places that felt most like home. I never had a major breakdown in a rental of that type that went unattended overnight. I had urgent repairs attended to quickly and non-urgent ones attended to eventually. They took care of the property and were not overly attached. Did I just get lucky?

The second best landlords, in my experience, lived far away. When a problem came up, they called a technician and paid the bill.

For me, it was the local absentee landlords who were the worst of both worlds. They violated our privacy and tried to fix things themselves. When that failed, there were long delays before they hired someone.

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Tenancies at Will explained

Posted by Rona Fischman August 18, 2010 02:05 PM

Leases are contracts and can be oral or written. Today, Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. writes about what these contracts mean to renters and landlords.

There are basically two types of tenancies in Massachusetts: a lease and a tenancy at will.

A common misconception is that leases are better for landlords and tenancies-at-will are better for tenants. This is not necessarily true. Which form is better will depend on the needs of each party for stability, predictability, and flexibility, since the terms and conditions of either a lease or a tenancy-at-will can be negotiated between the landlord and the tenant. However, for any unit that receives a federal or state subsidy, there must be a lease for at least a one-year period.

Differences with a written fixed lease

The biggest differences between a lease and tenancy at will are the following:

• a lease is for a fixed term, usually a year, while a tenancy-at-will is from month(s) to month(s);
• a lease can be terminated during the term of the lease only for reasons listed in the lease, whereas a tenancy-at-will can be terminated without any reason; and
• the rent for a lease is fixed for the term of the lease, except where the lease itself allows for an increase, whereas the landlord can increase the rent for a tenant-at-will upon giving notice one rental period in advance.

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Landlord-tenant hell: water fight!

Posted by Rona Fischman August 13, 2010 02:13 PM

We’ve been troubled by too much water this spring. We had two floods,
a water line break, and then summer flash flooding.

We’ve had a lot of water in the wrong place this year. But, landlords complain about water in the wrong place, too. That place is coming out of the tap at their rentals. I hear complaints that tenants “take hour-long showers,” as if they are doing this just to hurt the landlord.

Water does not come cheap. Landlords are obligated to pay the water bill for their rentals. Tenants are not obligated to conserve water. The battle lines are drawn!

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What does this low vacancy rate mean?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 12, 2010 02:06 PM

This short piece in Tuesday’s Boston Globe, brings the “Annual scare the renters into paying more and getting less” article up to date. Here’s the summary:

1. Increasing foreclosures are reducing the vacancy rate. People who are losing their homes are entering the rental market.

2. People cannot borrow, because lending standards are higher, are staying in the rental market.

3. The vacancy rate is 6.2 percent. This is weird because low vacancy generally means a strong economy.

Those streaming into town for their last-minute search for a roof over their heads have more competition this year. Expect to pay more to get less. Hummm…

Although I don’t doubt Reis, Inc.’s research, it flies in the face of what I see happening in the local real estate market.

1. People who are losing their homes may be in the rental market. Isn’t that balanced out by young people who have moved in with their parents in droves? Isn’t this especially true of greater Boston, the undergraduate capital of America?

2. The lending standards are higher. Not for long. Did you read Scott on Tuesday?

3. A vacancy rate around 6 is a sign of a strong economy. We know that one isn’t so.

So what is going on? How can you explain the 6.2 vacancy rate in large apartment buildings in Greater Boston?

Rent deposits: to take or not to take?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 11, 2010 02:25 PM

Here are the words of Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. He knows the law regarding deposits. Do you? Does you landlord?

With the students arriving any minute, it’s a good idea to review last month’s rent and security deposits – one of the most heavily regulated aspects of Massachusetts landlord-tenant law and are fraught with pitfalls and penalties for the unwary, careless landlord.

If you don’t really know the rules for handling last month’s and security deposits, don’t take them. The reason is that any misstep, however innocent, under the complex Massachusetts last month’s rent and security deposit law can subject a landlord to far greater liability than the deposit, including penalties up to triple the amount of the deposit and payment of the tenant’s attorneys’ fees.

If a deposit is necessary, take a last month’s deposit, the requirements of which are less strict than security deposits. Here is an overview of the security deposit law:

Requirements for holding a security deposit

The following steps must be followed when a landlord holds a security deposit:
1. When the deposit is tendered, the landlord must give the tenant a written receipt which provides:
o the amount of the deposit
o the name of the landlord/agent
o the date of receipt
o the property address.

2. Within 30 days of the money being deposited, the landlord must provide the tenant with a receipt identifying the bank where the deposit is held, the amount and account number.

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Landlord-tenant hell: how do you sniff out a bad landlord?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 6, 2010 02:10 PM

Are you paying your rent to the right person? That is a question that tenants should not need to wonder about, but sometimes they ought to. A friend of mine paid her rent for seven months to the wrong person. The wrong person was her landlord. The right person was a bank official.

Here’s what happened: She had been renting the house for a few years. She loved it. She made friends in the neighborhood. She was looking forward to being there a long time. One day, an official from a local lender knocked on the door to ask for her rent. She said she’d already paid it to the landlord.

The bank official said she owed it to the lender. The landlord was in foreclosure. The good side of this is that the knock on the door was the lender and not a constable with a “notice to quit.” She isn’t being evicted. The lender bought the house back and it will be for sale.

My friend owns a small business. She doesn’t have tons of savings, but will be making an attempt to buy this house. I made some calls and put her in communication with a local attorney.
This may have a happier ending than the last time I wrote about a foreclosing landlord.

Today’s topic is: How do you, as a prospective tenant, interview your landlord?

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Landlord-tenant hell: tenancy-at-will

Posted by Rona Fischman July 30, 2010 02:08 PM

A lease is a contract in which the landlord and tenant make promises to one another in writing. Be aware of what you are promising! Today I am writing about tenancy-at-will, sometimes called “month-to-month” lease. How do tenancy-at-will leases work? With tenancy-at-will leases, either party can cancel with notice. The required notice length will be written in the lease.

Our commenter, Grasshoppa, had his tenant move out in the middle of the winter. I blamed the tenant, but he ‘fessed up that he had a tenancy-at-will lease:

Me: Grasshoppa,
You had a problem with a tenant who left you in the middle of winter. Bad problem…

Grasshoppa answered:
The tenant who left in the winter was at-will. I now have a lease. Pros and cons to both. Another topic?

Yes, it’s a great topic. What is your experience with tenancy-at-will? Did the flexibility work to your advantage or did you have an unpleasant outcome?

Tenancy-at-will, obviously, works better for the party that plans to quit the contract and generally is unpleasant for the person who has to make an unexpected change. Sometimes both parties are ready to part and all is well, but that’s just lucky. Landlords are hurt when tenants leave during non-peak rental times. Tenants are almost always hurt because moving has both up-front costs for security deposits plus the fuss and expense of moving.

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Student slum that I learned to love

Posted by Rona Fischman July 23, 2010 02:11 PM

My father was a man of few words. So when he said “This is the worst apartment you have ever lived in” it made me think about my choice of residence. The year was 1986. My objective was to have a lot of space and a low rent, so I turned a blind eye to a lot of defects.

What was wrong with the place? It had a large gas-fired space heater in the living room; it was big and brown and ugly and probably dangerous. There was electric heat back-up in the bedrooms, but using it was about as efficient as making a bond-fire of one dollar bills. It was across the street from the ambulance garage. It was next to the parking lot of “Ye Ol’ Waterhole and Beer Can Museum”

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The students are coming…

Posted by Rona Fischman July 21, 2010 02:26 PM

I asked Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. to add to the conversations about rentals, as we near peak rental season in Greater Boston.

In a few weeks, the quiet streets of Allston, Brighton and Cambridge will turn into the zoo that is known as student moving week. So it’s time to review frequently asked questions for landlord-tenant law.

Screening Prospective Tenants
Landlords can legally ask about a tenant’s income, current employment, prior landlord references, credit history, and criminal history. Your rental application should include a full release of all credit history and CORI (Criminal Offender Registry Information). Use CORI information with a great deal of caution, however, and offer the tenant an opportunity to explain any issues. Landlords should also check the Sex Offender Registry to ascertain whether a potential tenant could be a safety risk to others nearby. Use the rental application and other forms from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

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Who is your agent? Lessons in identity theft.

Posted by Rona Fischman July 19, 2010 02:10 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team (our Monday guy) warns that mistakes happen when people move too fast without fully understanding what they are getting into. Verify who you are working with before you hand over confidential information or money.

Whether buying or renting, finding the right home can be a challenge. Once found, it’s natural to think that others will also be interested in it. Most people react by getting excited and move quickly to make an offer or rental application to assure that someone else doesn’t get the property first.

Mary and Jane, two smart young women searching for an apartment together, looked at a dozen apartments and didn’t find anything that worked at their price point before they found an online post describing the perfect apartment at a great price. They called and dropped everything to rush over and meet the agent at the apartment. The apartment was perfect, so they went back to the agent’s office to fill out applications and put down a deposit to hold the apartment.

The applications required their Social Security numbers, birth dates and permission to run a credit check. They agent copied their licenses. Because they were just out of college, the agent said they needed co-signers. Their parents filled out co-signer agreements, including similar information for the agent to get their credit reports.

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Landlord-tenant hell: reference checks

Posted by Rona Fischman July 16, 2010 01:44 PM

My former tenants frequently use me as a reference when they switch apartments. I think it is because I am both a landlord and a real estate broker; they think I can talk the talk.

Well I can, but a lot of the landlords and agents who call me can’t.

Here are the two worst types of reference check calls I get:

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Apartments may be on the comeback, but is this trend sustainable?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 12, 2010 10:25 AM

With condos and offices out, developers are now looking to churn out apartments.

In fact, when it comes to private sector construction, apartments, along with research labs, may just be about the only game in town right now.

In Boston, office tower Dean Stratouly has filed plans to transform the Boston Renaissance charter school building at 100 Arlington St. into 128 apartments.

Meanwhile, down on the waterfront, another long-time city developer, Joseph Fallon, is eyeing plans for a 12-story apartment tower at the Fan Pier project next to the Moakley Courthouse.

Examples abound as well in the suburbs, including plans for major new apartment communities in Belmont and Concord.

Meanwhile, as new condo towers go begging for buyers, high-rise rental projects, like the Avenir near North Station, are mostly full.

The business logic is obvious - despite the housing bust, people still need a place to live. And while apartments will not bring in the returns that office or condo towers can, they are a much safer investment and hence easier to finance.

However, it would be great if this was part of a longer-term shift, one that made apartment living more than just a temporary pit stop on the way to home ownership.

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Landlord-tenant hell: the credit check

Posted by Rona Fischman July 9, 2010 02:19 PM

My husband and I have been landlords for 14 years. Mostly, we’ve had good luck with tenants.

When we interview new tenants, we flush out most of our rejects by reviewing their credit reports. Credit reports give more information than just the credit score. These reports include debt balances and the payment history – on time or late -- but also what addresses the applicant has lived at in the past two years.

When I ask permission to get the credit report, I usually hear more about their financial history. I look for a story that makes sense. Here are some of the stories. Only one was a reject:

Person #1: My credit score is low. I work hourly, not on salary, but I earn tips so the pay is pretty high. My mother got cancer and I was needed at home. At the time, I had a credit card balance. Since my income went way down, the interest piled up on the card. Things got messy with the high interest I was paying. That was two years ago. You will see that I consolidated my debt and have been paying it off for the past 14 months. You can have my credit counselor as a reference.

Person #2: I got sick and couldn’t work. I ended up moving in with my parents. I’m better now.

Person #3: I just got out of college. I haven’t had a credit card of my own, so my credit score is going to be really low.

Which ones worked out?

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Landlord-tenant hell: too close for comfort

Posted by Rona Fischman July 2, 2010 01:57 PM

Today, I reactivate the series "Landlord-tenant hell" with issues about being a landlord and being a tenant. Ideas for 2010 are welcome!

Rental season in greater Boston is already in full swing. As apartments open up at the end of May, current renters jockey for better places. Then come July and August, new residents come in to start school and jobs in September. So, this is the first in a series on landlord-tenant posts. I expect to be covering rental issues for the rest of the summer.

My clients are generally sensitive to conflicts of interest. Recently one of them had this dilemma:

He wanted to rent his condo for one year, for a tax advantage, and then sell it. Should he rent my condo to someone he supervises at work?

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Is Greater Boston a better market right now for renters or buyers?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 4, 2010 09:50 AM

It is definitely a question worth looking at, especially given the ongoing turmoil in the real estate market and a still uncertain recovery.

There's rising interest in renting out there - The New York Times has a nifty calculator on its website aimed at helping fence sitters figure out whether to rent or buy.

Now along comes Trulia.com, which has put together an index of its own ranking the nation's top 50 metro markets in terms of whether they are better buying or renting markets.

The Boston area, given some still pretty high home and condo prices, is deemed by Trulia to be a better market for renters rather than buyers right now, though only nominally.

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They are getting married, but separated by real estate

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 25, 2010 09:29 AM

"Jerry," as we shall call him here, wrote to me over the weekend with a dilemma that is increasingly common these days amid a still tough real estate market.

He's engaged and wants to move with his fiancee closer to Boston, where his wife's family lives.

But Jerry bought a townhouse in the Merrimack Valley for $180,000 near the peak of the bubble back in 2005.

And he now finds himself $30,000 underwater on his 1,100 square foot, two bedroom and 1 ½ bath townhouse.

So what should he do? Jerry has thought of everything from trying to do a short sale to renting out his townhouse.

A direct kind of guy, Jerry succinctly laid out the options he is mulling over in his email to me.

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Condo owner's right to rent

Posted by Rona Fischman March 18, 2010 01:45 PM

From the email, Jason asked:

We just bought a condo in a new condo conversion in July. We are a new association and fine tuning the condo docs to fit the original owners and making sure everything is in place. We were wanting to make an amendment to our condo docs that limit the amount of the 4 units being rented at 1 unit (25%). In addition, we were wondering if we could also put a limit on the number of occupants in a unit? First, I'm curious to know if that is legally possible in Massachusetts for both items, and if so, which documents would need to state that? (I.e. declaration of trust, master deed, or just the by-laws). All owners are in agreement on this, but we want to make sure we wouldn't have any legal issues down the road trying to enforce it.

Since Jason asked a legal question, I sent him to a lawyer -- since I don’t play one on this blog. However, buyers do need to understand about condo associations and owner occupancy before they think about buying into one.

Owner occupancy matters because most of the time, PMI companies require that at least half of the units in a condo complex be owner occupied. If owner occupancy is too low, buyers with less than 20 percent down can’t get PMI and therefore can’t buy the unit. This limits resale, since fewer buyers qualify.

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More Lead Paint Questions

Posted by Rona Fischman February 17, 2010 01:50 PM

Remember Mary from last week? She and John are renting with a young son. In our post mortem email on the entry about her, she wrote this:

…I had another idea for a posting on the topic of rentals for families…First, maybe a legal overview/responsibility of the Lead Abatement law? Including options for violations? I have several friends who’ve called apt listings only to be hung up on abruptly with “It’s not deleaded!!!” if they hear a child in the background or if they answer truthfully about having children. Other moms on our local moms’ blog post about receiving termination notices when the landlord discovers they are pregnant – usually of course for TAWs. Finally, there is also a listing this week in the local JP paper for an owner occupied (makes a difference for deleading requirements?) 2 family rental which states “Unit Not Deleaded” right in the ad.

I know when I shouldn’t begin to answer a question. This was one of these times. Thank God for Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. I passed this one to him:

The short answer is these are all potential violations of the Massachusetts Lead Law.

Under the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law, whenever a child under six years of age comes to live in a rental property, the property owner has a responsibility to discover whether there is any lead paint on the property and to de-lead to protect the young children living there. A property owner or real estate agent cannot get around the legal requirements to disclose information about known lead hazards simply by refusing to rent to families with young children. They also cannot refuse to renew the lease of a pregnant woman or a family with young children just because a property may contain lead hazards. And property owners cannot refuse to rent simply because they do not want to spend the money to de-lead the property. Any of these acts is a violation of the Lead Law, the Consumer Protection Act, and various Massachusetts anti-discrimination statutes that can have serious penalties for a property owner or real estate agent.

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Rentals, just the facts, m'am

Posted by Rona Fischman January 21, 2010 04:54 PM

Sometimes the facts of the matter are just not the facts of the matter. During the extended discussion about young families, our trusty Markus came up with some facts about Newton rental housing.

Markus wrote:

The facts are very different, however. 30% of Newton residents rent. So there goes that argument.

Later, Markus added:

Actually, I was addressing the notion that Newton does not have a large rental market. it does.

Markus’s facts may be correct, but those facts are totally irrelevant to young families looking for a rental. The kind of rentals that young families want and need are just not available. A very quick search of the Newton assessor’s database shows:

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Tenants evicted because of their landlord

Posted by Rona Fischman December 11, 2009 02:32 PM

Rachel Bedick at Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) is back to explain tenant’s rights in a foreclosure.

After foreclosure, tenants have more rights than former owners. If the tenants had a lease with the former owner, then due to a relatively new Federal law called the “Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act,” that lease must be honored by the new owner. For instance, if the tenants signed a 1 year (proper/legal) lease with the former owner and the foreclosure takes place 6 months into their lease, then the new owner can’t begin eviction proceedings for another 6 months. According to this new law, in most cases after the lease ends the new owner would have to serve the tenants with a 90-day notice-to-quit. (Certain situations may require less than 90 days.) After those 90 days the new owner could then begin the summary process. For tenants who never had a lease, they are also entitled, generally speaking, to receive a 90-day notice-to-quit. FULL ENTRY

Tenant-landlord relations in the recession

Posted by Rona Fischman November 3, 2009 02:03 PM

I got an email that sparked a discussion between me and my husband. The email, from one of our tenants, asked that we hold the rent check a few days before cashing it. Just three days, she said. She had an unexpected dental bill and she needed time for her next paycheck to clear.

Our discussion went on, too. The way I was raised, you pay your rent, you buy gas for the car, and you buy your groceries; then you pay your other bills. I would never think to pay my rent late. I would pay the dentist late, if I was short that month.

My husband thought that many people run things the way I was taught, but others would never think to delay payment to a professional. It would be embarrassing. Since our tenant knew us, she was more willing to lose face with us, since we have an ongoing relationship that could sustain the incident.

My thought: We have a tenant living way to close to the edge! What’s going to happen when she has a car repair? Or a fat heating bill? My husband’s thought: She’s been here a while, she is well employed and employable. He had no worries. In any case, we held the check and her tenancy goes on.

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A good time to be a renter

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 3, 2009 09:00 AM

Looking back on my renting days, I can’t recall any of my landlords ever cutting my rent or offering any incentives for me to stay.

The closest thing to a perk I ever encountered was during my waning days as a bachelor back in the late 1990s. After much pressure, I finally convinced the landlord of my Quincy apartment to replace my dorm-sized fridge with a used, full-sized model.

Anyway, with the economy still in a ditch and joblessness at 1970s levels, some landlords have decided it makes more sense to get you to stay, even at a discount, according to new survey by Reis Inc.

They are even throwing in flat-screen TVs, according to a study, detailed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

Flat screen TVs aside, if you have a job and are in the rental market, you clearly have some clout you didn’t have before.

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Landlord-tenant hell: drinking guests and faulty railings

Posted by Rona Fischman September 30, 2009 02:23 PM

Welcome back to Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. Today, he tells us about Scott v. Garfield. This case was about a guest who fell off a porch. The porch had a faulty rail; the guest had a few beers. Is the landlord liable for the injuries of the guest? How do you think it should have turned out? Here’s what happened in court:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that a landlord was liable for breaching the implied warranty of habitability when a tenant’s guest seriously injured himself falling from a defective porch. The case is Scott v. Garfield, and can be found here.

What’s the Implied Warranty of Habitability?
The implied warranty of habitability is a legal concept that imposes a legal duty on a residential landlord, in the form of an implied agreement, to ensure that an apartment complies with the State building and sanitary codes. Under the implied warranty of habitability, a landlord can be liable for personal injuries if a tenant is injured due to the premises being in violation of code.

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Lease-to-own or lease-to-lose?

Posted by Rona Fischman September 23, 2009 02:36 PM

My series on landlord-tenant hell lives on through the internet and gets occasional hits. I got a comment that was longer than two (maybe three) blog entries put together. It was about a lease-to-own agreement gone bad.

I published the whole comment on the entry, but I will summarize here:

Dawn writes:
She had a lease to own agreement with a landlord. Her family moved into the place this March. They lived in the whole multi-family property and she paid rent. They did improvements to accommodate her elderly mother. (They do home improvement as a business; value of the work is $15,000.)

The landlord asked to come in with an appraiser at the end of June. Landlord said he was taking a loan out on the property. He asked for rent a day or so early.
Turns out -- you guessed it -- the seller was in foreclosure. The property value was down about $80,000.

The landlord then offered a short sale deal for the appraised amount, plus a side gift of the rest of what the place was “worth.”
These lease-to-owners finally had the light bulb go on. They didn’t pay him the next month’s rent. They called a lawyer. They are now buying the place as a short sale, with some legal help.

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Know your lease or pay the price

Posted by Rona Fischman September 14, 2009 02:35 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team continues his Monday series. Sam has some details for renters who plan to buy, like J.

It is amazing how many tenants do not understand the terms of their lease and how to legally terminate it.

A lease is a contract that defines the terms of the business relationship between the tenant and the landlord.
Before committing to buy, a tenant should understand their lease. Failure to abide by its terms can cost thousands of dollars.

Most leases begin on the first of the month and end on the last day of the month, but it is possible to have a lease that begins on any other day of the month. For example, a “monthly” lease that begins on the fifteenth day of the month would end on the 14th day of the following month.

There are different kinds of leases. Here is brief discussion of the most common types of residential leases:

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They are daffy about luxury condos in NYC

Posted by Rona Fischman September 10, 2009 02:39 PM

I have been following this promotion since it started. Here’s the pitch: a fashion retailer, Daffy’s, is offering a one-year lease at $700 a month for a $7000 a month loft on Carmine Street and 7th Avenue. (That’s smack in the middle between Greenwich Village, Soho, and the West Village.) Contestants were asked to come to the apartment to do a 30-second interview explaining why Daffy’s should give them the rights to the lease. It’s like, “what will you do for a Klondike bar?”
Mostly, these are commercials for Daffy’s. They amused me. So, I’m passing them on…
This ad campaign made me wonder. Does this advertising help the folks at OneSeventh, the owners of the building? There were lots and lots of people coming through to record their interviews; I wonder if any will ever rent there at market rate? I doubt it.

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Breaking a lease to buy?

Posted by Rona Fischman September 8, 2009 06:18 PM

J. had a second part to his question about buying off-season:

If we would be able to save a significant chunk (while still getting a quality property) by buying off-season, say 5% or more, it might be worth turning our lives upside down a bit to make it work. We are currently on the September rental cycle, and understandably, our landlord is not keen on letting us go month-to-month in late 2010. Our apartment is not cheap, and we would potentially have to eat a huge chunk of rent were we to sign a lease for 2010-2011 and then break it to move into a purchased home.

There are two parts to this answer:
The first is about the depth of the savings. Yesterday, I wrote about what I expect. It varies house to house. If a really good deal comes along, and it is a good place ---- not a yellow and pink XXL guy’s Speedo --- it could be worth the leap.
The second question is about the financial risk of breaking a lease on an expensive apartment.
I say this over and over: in the real world, percentages are a bad way to calculate savings. Real numbers work much better. J. and his girlfriend need to look at the hard numbers of what they need to save to make this purchase worth it. If the numbers don’t work, they should stay until the end of the spring market, 2010.

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They are back

Posted by Rona Fischman August 21, 2009 02:29 PM

It is two weeks until Labor Day. For me, today marks the beginning of the annual student migration. While getting gas this morning, a middle-aged guy in a “Life is Good” t-shirt came up to me to ask directions to Lexington Center. I asked him where he was from. He said, without much prompting, ”California. We are dropping our daughter off at Harvard and taking a family vacation.” The guy couldn’t hold it in for a second that his oldest child is going to Harvard. At the next pump, a young woman said, “Great school, I went there and never left. She’ll love it.”

The Californians followed me to Route 2 and I waved goodbye to them at exit 54. I wonder if those parents are happy with the idea that their daughter may fall in love with Greater Boston and live here for the rest of her life. California is a long way from here.

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How H and L kept their condo and advanced their professional careers

Posted by Rona Fischman August 20, 2009 02:35 PM

H and L faced the prospect of selling their condo, but found another way. They are a lot like other young college educated adults. They are hard workers and good planners. They are 27 and 28 years old. They are willing to make compromises in order to not go backwards on their life plans.

L is still in graduate school. H is now out of full-time work and going back to school. Their combined student loans are $250 a month, so far. That is better than average. Finaid.org lists near $93,000 as average debt for H’s degree and $40,000 for the one the L is pursuing. One of the compromises that H made was to go to a less prestigious professional school. That is one of the bars to his ability to get another high-paying job now. Compromises have consequences.

OK…back to how they kept the wolves from the door of their condo:
They are renting it and moving to a cheaper place. Kudos to those who guessed right last week.

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Check out your future landlord

Posted by Rona Fischman August 19, 2009 02:18 PM

One of my clients wrote me yesterday:

Hi Rona,

Various foreclosure stories about renters being evicted because their landlords fell behind on the mortgage made me wonder why in my renting life I never asked to see proof that the landlord was current on their mortgage, had a credit check run, or even for that matter proof that they really owned it. Does anyone check these things? Was I just lazy and lucky? If this had been common practice, would it have helped any? Do rental agencies have any liability if the tenant gets evicted? This seems like the real waste and injustice of the foreclosure mess.

I answered:

I covered this topic over a year ago. It is worth mentioning again, since we are at peak rental season. Thanks!

Next weekend, expect bumper-to-bumper U-Hauls throughout rental areas around Boston. The flood continues through September 1st. Most of those who are driving in already have a lease in hand.
Those with poor planning skills are still looking for a place to unload that truck. This entry is for them:

Think of a landlord-tenant interview like you should think of a job interview. You may think you want that job, but you should also be interviewing the boss to make sure you really want it. Some jobs are worse than no job. The same is true of apartments.

Problems run rampant for tenants who rent from landlords who are failing financially. When they are foreclosed upon, your deposits are put in line with all the other creditors. Right, you are not at the top of the list. Community Action Agencies (Federal anti-poverty programs) like Community Action Agency of Somerville are flooded with tenants who have lost their apartments and their deposits due to their landlord’s foreclosure.

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Sympathy for the landlord

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 19, 2009 09:00 AM

If you thought home sellers had it bad, take a look at what landlords are dealing with.

The Herald takes a look at some pretty interesting stats that point to a glut of available apartments in Boston, including in some tony neighborhoods.

The story highlights a Beacon Hill landlord with four of his five units vacant.

The number of available rentals listed on MLS has roughly doubled in the last year, to 535. Back Bay’s stock of empty apartments has nearly tripled to 149.

Ironically, Boston’s push to get more students out of the neighborhoods and into rentals may be making a tough market even tougher, the story notes.

Thanks City Hall.

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Security Deposits: To Take Or Not To Take, That Is The Question.

Posted by Rona Fischman August 5, 2009 02:00 PM

Attention landlords and tenants, Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. is back to tell you what is really required by law. Today he reviews the laws around security deposits.

Last month’s rent and security deposits are one of the most heavily regulated aspects of Massachusetts landlord-tenant law and are fraught with pitfalls and penalties for the unwary, careless landlord. Any misstep, however innocent, under the complex security deposit law can subject a landlord to far greater liability than the deposit, including penalties up to triple the amount of the deposit and payment of the tenant’s attorneys’ fees.
This is why I advise landlords not to require security deposits. If a deposit is necessary, take a last month’s deposit, the requirements of which are less strict than security deposits. If landlords insist on taking a security deposit, they must follow the law to the letter.

Security Deposit Requirements

The following steps must be followed when a landlord holds a security deposit:
1. When the deposit is tendered, the landlord must give the tenant a written receipt which provides:
o the amount of the deposit
o the name of the landlord/agent
o the date of receipt
o the property address.
2. Within 30 days of the money being deposited, the landlord must provide the tenant with a receipt identifying the bank where the deposit is held, the amount and account number.
Within 10 days after the tenancy begins, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written "statement of condition" of the premises detailing its condition and any damage with a required disclosure statement;
3. The tenant has an opportunity to note any other damage to the premises, and the landlord must agree or disagree with the final statement of condition and provide it to the tenant.
4. The security deposit must be held in a separate interest bearing account in a Massachusetts financial institution protected from the landlord’s creditors.
5. The landlord must pay the tenant interest on the security deposit annually if held for more than one year.
6. The security deposit may only be used to reimburse the landlord for unpaid rent, reasonable damage to the unit or unpaid tax increases if part of the lease. Security deposits cannot be used for general eviction costs or attorneys’ fees. Within 30 days of the tenant’s leaving, the landlord must return the deposit plus any unpaid interest or provide a sworn, itemized list of deductions for damage with estimates for the work. Only then can the landlord retain the security deposit.

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A legal refresher course for landlords

Posted by Rona Fischman July 29, 2009 03:00 PM

It is peak rental season in eastern Massachusetts. I am pleased to welcome back Attorney Richard D. Vetstein to remind landlords what they can and cannot do when interviewing potential tenants this summer.

Screening Prospective Tenants:

Landlords can legally ask about a tenant’s income, current employment, prior landlord references, credit history, and criminal history. Your rental application should include a full release of all credit history and CORI (Criminal Offender Registry Information.) Use CORI information with a great deal of caution, however, and offer the tenant an opportunity to explain any issues. Landlords should also check the Sex Offender Registry as they can be held liable for renting to a known offender. Use the rental application and other forms from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

Under Massachusetts discrimination laws, a landlord cannot inquire about a tenant’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, religion, military/veteran status, disability, receipt of public assistance, and children.

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Noisome or offensive

Posted by Rona Fischman July 24, 2009 03:03 PM

In the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database, I can restrict a client’s search in regards to pets. It is easy to rule-out “yes” or “no” in the “Pets Allowed” field. One of the reasons that my clients give for not wanting to live in a condo is pets. Some don’t want them; some don’t want restrictions on them.

For my die-hard pet lovers, the “with restriction” field is the same as “no.” Why? Because the legal language of the restriction usually looks something like this: "common household pets such as cats and dogs may be kept on premises but not in such kind or number to be noisome or offensive to occupants of the units." In close quarters, loud barking or howling, threatening behavior, poor waste hygiene, or biting or scratching are not acceptable dog or cat behaviors. Anyone who has lived near animals in apartments or condos has come upon a dog or cat that is truly noisome or offensive. The problem with humans is that their definition of “noisome or offensive” is way too hard to define.

People are unhappy on both sides of the dilemma:

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On the move every July and August

Posted by Rona Fischman July 22, 2009 03:09 PM

In physics, the state of entropy is when everything settles down. Brownian motion resists entropy. It is the movement caused when particles knock into one another and cause more movement. I think of this every summer as I see tenants moving around. Some are leaving town, some arriving. Some are trying to get a nicer place, some a cheaper one, some a nicer one at the same price or cheaper. Some want bigger, some want smaller. So, lots of people are in motion right now, bumping into one another on the stairway as the move in or out of an apartment.

Landlord-tenant relations are a lot like employer-employee ones. A good job interview goes both ways: the employee is checking out the job as much as the employer is checking out the job applicant. In the same way, landlords should be checking their tenants and tenants should be checking their landlords.

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I'm a fan of rental property

Posted by Rona Fischman June 24, 2009 03:09 PM

The New York Times had an article about our triple-deckers this month. Besides quoting what Dennis Lehane thinks of them, Abby Goodnough quoted these statistics about foreclosure in this kind of housing:

In Boston, three-family homes represent 14 percent of the housing stock, but made up 21 percent of foreclosed property in 2008, according to the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development… Ms. [Evelyn] Friedman, [chief and director of the Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development] believes the foreclosure rate on triple-deckers is even higher than the data indicate, because many were converted into condominiums in recent years. These are counted in a separate category that made up 48 percent of the city’s foreclosed properties last year.

I am a huge fan of owner-occupied multi-family housing. The Times’ reporter reiterates what I think:

Best of all, three-deckers put homeownership within reach of the working class. Buyers could live in one unit and rent out the others, assuring they could afford payments and upkeep for years to come.
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Landlord-tenant: security deposit

Posted by Rona Fischman June 17, 2009 03:22 PM

I have been looking for good information about landlord-tenant issues for readers on this blog. Rich Rosa is an attorney and a buyer’s agent practicing north of Boston. He did some legal research for a reader:


The question:

...Could you talk about security deposits during the tenancy? e.g.during the tenancy, can the LL deduct from the security deposit costs
repairs (for damages caused by the tenant) and then require the tenant to pay that amount into the SD account so the SD stays at the original agreed to amount? E.g. tenant gave a $600 SD. Tenant drives over lawn chair (yes, it happened). LL takes $50 out of the SD to cover
the lawn chair so SD is now only $550. Can LL require tenant to pay $50 into the SD so it goes back up to $600.? How can this be enforced? Or is it better require the tenant to immediately pay the $50 and not touch the SD? In this case then, how to enforce the tenant paying the
$50? Some LLs say the lease can say that any monies owed will be deducted from any monies received. So if the tenant does not pay the $50, the LL can deduct $50 from the next months rent. Thus the rent is short and if the tenant still doesn't pay the $50, then the tenant can be evicted for nonpayment. Would the courts evict for nonpayment in such a case? Thanks, JPLL


The answer:

The landlord should ask the tenant to pay for the damage at the time it occurs and not deduct from the security deposit.

With regards to deducting from the security deposit, the statute does not specifically provide for making deductions during the term of the tenancy; therefore, a landlord should request that a tenant pay for damage themselves to property outside the dwelling when it occurs, but should not make a deduction from the security deposit.

The legal requirements imposed on landlords who accept security deposits from tenants are numerous and quite specific. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 186 covers landlord and tenant relationships in general, and Chapter 186, Section 15B outlines a landlord's responsibilities relating specifically to security deposits.

The Massachusetts Attorney General's office publishes a guide about landlord and tenant rights. It provides basic answers to many commonly asked questions.

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How should a landlord prepare for spring?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 22, 2009 03:24 PM

I have been holding Wednesdays to talk about landlord-tenant issues. Is my audience still there? What do you want talk about or learn about? Let me know.

Today’s topic: normal seasonal maintenance. What needs to be done and who does it?

My tenants had to wait until mid-April before we got to clear the front yard. (We keep it covered in mulch over the winter. It looks normal in the winter, but begins to look shabby when the flowers come up.) Our poor spring bulb plants struggled through it and so did the tenants. We take care of all the common space at our rental. Is that what your landlord does?

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Test-drive your school district

Posted by Rona Fischman April 17, 2009 03:33 PM

Living well seems to have a lot to do with figuring out what is a good school. How do find out about the schools when you don’t live there yet?

First, check out the town.
By going to places where children and their parents go, you can find out what the children are like, and their parents, too. Do what you normally do: Go grocery shopping, go to a playground, go to a movie, walk through town, and/or go out to dinner. If parks are important to you, then go to the parks, same for libraries, and little league games. If you do not like being there, you are in the wrong place. Watch the behavior of the children and their parents in town; that is the culture you children could grow up in.

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Don’t flush that!

Posted by Rona Fischman April 15, 2009 03:30 PM

The crux of the issue between landlords and their tenants is defining normal wear and tear, normal maintenance, and improvement. Today, let’s talk about plumbing. Should landlords expect tenants to flush only the most flushable things? Should tenants be responsible for clogs they make through normal usage? What about hair clogs in the tub? Food clogs in the disposer or dishwasher?

PC asked the un-PC question that plagues many a landlord:

… how do you tactfully tell women they can't flush tampons/pads down the toilet?

I found the answer to that one pretty easy. We have a clause in our lease about care of the plumbing. It includes a statement that nothing may be flushed down the toilet except human waste and toilet paper. No tissues, face-wipes, “flushable” cleaning and hygiene items.

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Are you out of the in-law?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 8, 2009 03:17 PM

The epithet thrown around on this blog about deadbeats has consistently involved references to living in one’s parents’ basement. The basement has the rooms designed to keep an adult child safe enough, but not comfortable enough to stick around for too long. Given the overall decline in fortunes for adults, young and old, many are finding themselves in basement or attic “in-law” or “au pare” apartments. So, today, I want to talk a bit about these little nests.

Zoning in most towns consider them separate apartments if they have a kitchen stove. If there’s a stove, you need to be sure that your municipality allows this. Many don’t. Why? Because most municipalities do not want people to turn single-family housing into two-family housing. Most towns also have fire codes that require good egress and big enough windows for ventilation and/or egress.

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Who takes care of that?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 1, 2009 03:23 PM

In October, I published on the problems of having a house for sale that is rented. As is common with blog entries, they live on through search engines and comments come in months later. One such entry came in much later. Here is what Kris wrote about tenant’s rights while a property is up for sale:

This is how I see it: When a landlord signs a lease, the house essentially belongs to the tenants for the duration of the lease. The tenant can use the property in whatever manner they see fit as long as it doesn't conflict with law or the lease. Showing the house to prospective buyers is not the tenants' responsibility. Whether the tenant is messy or not, the tenant should be able to live how they see fit. The tenant should not have to adjust their lifestyle in order to make the property more marketable to prospective buyers. If a landlord has "hostile tenants", then the landlord should wait until the lease is over before attempting to sell the property. The truth is that you cannot "have your cake and eat it too"; landlords who believe this are taking advantage of their tenants.
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To de-lead or not to de-lead?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 25, 2009 03:01 PM

One of my clients wrote me this email:

Dear Rona,

There might be a remote chance that we will move from this house, either to go to another state (California maybe) or to upgrade to a bigger place if we stay in the Boston area. In either case, I am thinking to keep this house as an investment and rent it. I know that there is lead paint in this house… Do you know if the house needs to be deleaded to be rented (or can the landlord have the tenant sign a release form in which the tenant acknowledges the presence of lead and relieves the landlord of any legal responsibility)?

First to answer the direct question:
Can the landlord have the tenant sign a release form in which the tenant acknowledges the presence of lead and relieves the landlord of any legal responsibility?
NO.
The owner of a property is responsible to anyone living there to provide a lead-safe environment for any children under the age of six. If a child is lead poisoned in the property, the owner is responsible.

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Do environmentalists rent property?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 18, 2009 03:15 PM

Landlords seem to be under the impression that tenants will use as much heat, electricity, and water as they possibly can. Why? Because tenants think it is “free.” Or maybe tenants do it just to tick landlords off.

I live in the greater Cambridge metropolitan area. I rented there for nine years. I’m an environmentalist. I put the storm windows down. I turn down the thermostat at night and when I was going to be out all day. I took short showers. I wash my dishes efficiently. I turn off lights when I leave the room. I didn’t distinguish between resources I paid directly and those that I paid as part of my rent.

Am I the only one?

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A thermostat of one’s own

Posted by Rona Fischman March 11, 2009 03:13 PM

I thought of this when I was writing about two-family homes last week. My husband and I once lived in a two-family home, which was not owner-occupied. The guy upstairs was from another country. He liked to keep his apartment cool. If his apartment was 60 degrees, our apartment was 55 degrees. We shared a thermostat. It was in his apartment.

November that year we froze our toes off. December, it got worse. The landlord switched the thermostat to our unit. His heating bill doubled. We had the thermostat on 68 degrees and the guy upstairs had all his windows open. My landlord started referring to my neighbor as “the fresh-air freak.” In April he moved the thermostat back upstairs. In July we moved out for unrelated reasons.

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Renter as serf

Posted by Rona Fischman March 4, 2009 02:53 PM

Last week while substituting for a fellow agent, I found myself in the apartment of a client. It was a standard two-family house. As is typical, I only saw the living room and the dining room. It looked OK to me. As the discussion went on, the complaints about the apartment grew in number and detail. Finally, this client made a statement that caused a paradigm shift for me:

“Don’t ever live in a two-family house where the landlord lives upstairs. It is like being a serf on a feudal plantation.”

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Some economic history and a prediction. Renter's rule!

Posted by Rona Fischman February 25, 2009 05:10 PM

Renters, take note, you may be in the right place for our economic future.

In The Atlantic, economist Richard Florida takes a long view of the world economy. He says that long depressions are opportunities for the economy to reset itself. During these hard times, large numbers of people change their economic lives, taking the country into a new economic era.

In the so-called “Long Depression” of 1873 to 1896, America changed from a strongly agricultural economy to one where many made their livings in large industrial cities. In America and elsewhere, there was huge growth in manufacture when the recovery took hold.

The “Great Depression” of 1929-1941 saw the growth of the American suburb in the recovery.

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The renter's advantage

Posted by Rona Fischman February 18, 2009 01:53 PM

I have been focusing on renters on Wednesdays, so send me an email if you have renter's topics you want me to cover.
The renters that are most noticeable to me are the student-aged and young adult renters who seem to swarm into metro Boston late every summer. I know there are many more renters here other than the transient young hordes. However, I was surprised by the census data information quoted in Newsgeography that says that 74.7 percent of American-born people who live in Massachusetts were born in Massachusetts. I thought our Commonwealth’s residents more transient.

I wonder how many of the renters who are reading this blog were born in Massachusetts. For that matter, how many were born in the United States?
If only about a quarter of American-born Massachusetts residents have come from other states, are they all right here near Boston?

Did you “grow where you were planted,” or did you come her from somewhere else? I am a native of the northeast, but not of Massachusetts. My husband is a native of the rust belt. We have both spent the vast majority of our adult life in Massachusetts. Neither of us went to college in greater Boston.

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Suddenly single, suddenly renting

Posted by Rona Fischman February 11, 2009 03:12 PM

One of the common ways that people go from being homeowners to being renters is by being divorced. Someone on this blog asked how many home are sold as a result of divorce. I don’t know. It is a lot, but I have been unable to find good statistics on that. Anyone know? Divorce one of the reasons that I prefer to be a buyer’s agent. I’d rather represent the couple buying than the one splitting up and selling.

I have represented newly single home buyers. I recommend that they rent an interim place so that they can get more settled before buying. Sometimes it takes time to get the financial part of the divorce settled; sometimes it takes time to get the emotional part of the divorce settled; sometimes both; rarely neither.

Do you agree that renting is a good decision just after divorce? Did you rent? Did you buy immediately, and then regret it? Did you buy immediately and land happily in your new single life?

The other twist to renting after divorce is also true for parents who were never married. How much space do you rent when you are a part-time, non-custodial parent? I have seen some typical patterns:

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The decline of two-family home ownership

Posted by Rona Fischman August 10, 2007 05:53 PM

I had buyers close on a two-family home last week. They had a long and hard search because there were so few nice options. I am glad to have them join the dwindling ranks of two-family homes owners.

The mass conversion of two-family homes into two-condo associations has reduced the supply. The steep increase in sale prices without a proportionate rental increase made the economic benefit of owning a two-family less appealing.

For me, buying a two-family house was the best decision I ever made. (Actually, the second best – you haven’t met my husband!) When we bought in 1996, two-family ownership was still a stepping-stone into home ownership for working class people. Collecting rent made the mortgage manageable. The house size is flexible, which is good for growing and shrinking families. Some owners stayed for a lifetime, some saved money then moved on to single family homes. In either case, it was good for real estate business and good for the community.

Now, there are large numbers of condos where two-family homes used to be. Condos are great housing for people at the beginning and end of their adult life. They are not the ideal place for young families with children. Because of this, cities like Somerville are experiencing a decline in school-aged children. In addition, there are fewer options for people trying to buy their first home. Both of these things are bad for real estate business and bad for the community.

About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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