When selecting tenants, landlords should consider keeping a log of each person who views the rental property, and any specific reasons why the landlord did not offer to rent to the prospective tenants. This will help if the landlord is ever accused of discrimination or unlawfully refusing to rent to a tenant (topics I will discuss in a future post).
In Aviksis, several tenants brought suit against their landlord for damages arising from water in the apartment. A father of one of the tenants was a guarantor on the lease and accordingly, was countersued by the landlord for these damages. The father won his case and attempted to recover his legal fees under the law discussed above: G.L. c. 186, § 20. The question for the Court was whether a guarantor of a lease was entitled to attorney fees under this law.
The Court relied on the plain meaning of the statute and held that tenants, and tenants alone, are entitled to the provisions of G.L. c. 186, § 20. Even though the guarantor may have been in the tenants “shoes” for the purposes of this case, the guarantor does not have the same rights as the tenants under this law.
What are the take home points of Aviksis v. Murray?
- Under Massachusetts landlord/tenant law, guarantors of leases are not treated the same as tenants. In short, if you assume liability for a lease, do not expect to get the same protections afforded to tenants under the law.
- Obtaining attorney fees continues to be the exception, rather than the rule, in civil litigation . . . something to always consider in deciding whether to pursue litigation.
What’s a lease? A lease, simply enough, is a contract for the rental of property. As such, a lease is enforceable at law. If a tenant signs a lease (which is usually for a one-year term), the tenant is liable for rental payments during that period of time.
I recently published a guide on Avvo.com on “How to Evict a Tenant in Massachusetts.” As I state in the guide, evicting a tenant generally requires a lawyer’s help, but this guide has advice on what can be done to prepare such a case in advance of hiring a lawyer. I hope this guide is a help to those who need it.
- Jury v. Bench Trial: Parties have a right to a jury trial in an eviction case. However, just because parties have this right does not mean they should always use it. A jury trial requires parties to strictly follow the rules of civil procedure and evidence, which can be a real challenge for a non-lawyer. If a party wants a jury trial, they should give serious consideration to hiring a landlord/tenant lawyer for their case.
- Timelines in an Eviction Case: Eviction cases (“summary process”) move at a faster pace than typical civil cases. Even if a party decides to represent themselves pro se, they need to be prepared to handle court and filing deadlines.
- Settlement: As said by the judge, “litigation is like getting naked in front of a room of strangers.” A court case is never easy for any party, and requires an enormous amount of time and costs for all parties. As explained best by this judge, a court case requires you to go before six unknown people, who have to hear your story and make a judgment. As said best by the judge: a settlement will almost always make everyone happier than a decision by the court—a sentiment I fully agree with.
continues to pay monthly rent. Is the lease still in effect?
Answer: Yes, to an extent. If a tenant continues to pay rent after the expiration of the lease (and the landlord accepts it) the tenant becomes a tenant-at-will (aka “month-to-month” tenant). The prior terms of the lease remain in effect. The major change is that the landlord may end the landlord/tenant relationship with the tenant by giving proper notice. The landlord must give the tenant a minimum of thirty days’ notice prior to bringing an eviction (if the tenant pays rent on a longer interval than a month, such as every two months, than the notice period must be for this length of time).