The Homestead

An estate of homestead is only available for a persons primary residence. The new homestead law took effect on March 16, 2011.

Below is a link to an eight page document authored by Secretary Galvin’s office regarding the homestead law entitled: The Homestead Act: Questions and Answers. If you read this document, you will know everything you would ever want to know about the law in Massachusetts.

Here is a brief summary for those of us too busy to read 8 pages:

  1. Homeowners are entitled to an automatic homestead protection worth $125,000.
  2. If you properly sign and record a declaration of homestead with the registry of deeds, the amount of protection increases to $500,000.
  3. The declared homestead protects against attachment, seizure, execution on judgment, levy or sale for the payment of debts.
  4. Additional protections exist for people who are disabled or 62 or over.
  5. The homestead law does not protect you from: federal, state, and local taxes, assessments, claims and liens, mortgage foreclosures, probate court executions.

How does the Massachusetts law compare with other New England states? See for yourself…the blue text are active hyperlinks…

New Hampshire

The highlight: New Hampshire’s is also automatic but the amount is only up to $100,000 per person.

Maine

The highlight: you have to live there for 12 months before you can even apply! Massachusetts has no such requirement.

Jack O’Donohue, Real Estate Attorney at Dalton & Finegold, LLP
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Evictions

Massachusetts is notoriously a difficult jurisdiction for landlords. Why does everyone say that?

The answer is simple. Evictions can last forever and the process can become quite complex. Approximate timelines and estimated costs for each stage of an eviction are outlined below:

Notice to Quit Stage

  • Timeline: 7-61 days
  • Expense: $5 – $50 for service (plus costs of counsel)

Complaint Stage

  • Timeline: 1 month+ (for a default judgment)
  • Expense: $140-$200 filing fee (plus costs of counsel)

Contested Evictions

  • Timeline: 2-24 months
  • Variables: Venue, parties, bench/jury trial, and competency of counsel
  • Expense: hours and hours of time OR attorneys fees and costs

Jack O’Donohue, Real Estate Attorney at Dalton & Finegold, LLP
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Stay Out of Trouble and Make Money

If you are a novice real estate investor, Massachusetts is a terrible place to do business. In fact, it might be one of the worst places in the country for investors operating without enough capital to take some serious lumps.

If you want to enjoy the incredible ROI Massachusetts landlords enjoy, you must act responsibly and BEYOND reasonable at all times. “Reasonable” behavior keeps me in business. Behave in a manner consistent with that of a host/hostess at the Ritz-Carlton, and you should avoid unnecessary conflict.

Landlord-tenant disputes can be extremely costly in measures of time and real dollars. Massachusetts landlords are held to a higher standard of care and conduct by our civil justice system. Many tenant friendly laws provide for generous (and sometimes non-sensical) damages of attorneys fees and costs.

I’ve summarized the main problem areas into four categories with corresponding tips that if you follow, you will (hopefully) stay out of trouble!

The Condition of the Rental Unit

  1. Review the Massachusetts Sanitary Code and make repairs immediately if they are needed! Call your Board of Health/Inspectional Services Department for a pre-rental inspection.
  2. Obtain and review a signed Lead Law Notice disclosure and obtain a letter of compliance from a lead inspector.

Potential damages for the tenant for breaches of the implied warranty of habitability and/or breaching the covenant of quiet enjoyment are equal to 3x months rent plus attorneys fees and costs.

Discrimination

  1. I’m borrowing this rule from the Kindergarden chalkboard: Treat everyone as equals.
  2. Always have a completed rental application before considering interested parties as prospective tenants.
  3. Check every applicant’s prior landlord references, credit reports, and employment and pick the tenant most likely to pay rent every month! Make a legitimate business decision!
  4. You cannot refuse to show or rent an apartment on the ground that it contains lead paint. You may delay the start of the tenancy (by up to 30 days)
  5. You may not discriminate against recipients of federal, state, or local public assistance.

Potential damages in the tenants favor are at the mercy of the judge and/or jury!

Retaliation

This is complicated law. The wrong communication may cost you thousands of dollars!

  1. Most of the time, this claim arises when a tenant calls the board of health for an inspection. I’m always fielding calls about this claim. Be careful with your conduct. Act in the manner consistent with the prudent business person.
  2. Massachusetts landlords face a rebuttable presumption of retaliation.

Potential damages for the tenant are equal 1x-3x months rent plus attorneys fees and costs.

Security Deposit Violations/Bad Accounting Practices

  1. Always provide a Statement of Condition and receipts for all deposits.
  2. Keep the money in a SMART place. (Separate interest bearing account, located in MA, beyond the Reach of your creditors, and easily Transferrable.
  3. Return the security deposit plus interest within 30 days. You may deduct for unpaid rent, unpaid tax increases, and anything above/beyond reasonable wear and tear.
  4. If you are going to deduct from a security deposit, the remaining balance must be returned with an affidavit accounting for all deductions.

Potential damages for the tenant are equal 3x the security deposit plus attorneys fees and costs.

Jack O’Donohue, Real Estate Attorney at Dalton & Finegold, LLP
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