Fall has been busy for me, but in a good way: I’m pleased to write that I won a landlord-tenant jury trial last week in the Housing Court! The case has some important implications for those involved in landlord-tenant disputes.
I represented two tenants who had a terrible experience with their prior landlord. This landlord–who is the owner of many large apartment complexes–routinely failed to address important safety and health complaints in my clients’ apartment. The most egregious conduct by this landlord was it’s failure to return my clients’ security deposit after they moved out of the apartment. My clients repeatedly contacted the landlord and requested the deposit’s return, which the landlord continuously ignored.
My clients, importantly, were never looking to start a lawsuit on this matter–they would have been fine if the landlord simply returned their money. By refusing to do so, however, the landlord forced this matter into court, resulting in damages that could have easily been avoided in the first place.
Lessons for Landlord-Tenant Disputes
This case has important lessons that landlords and tenants should keep in mind when addressing landlord-tenant disputes.
- Keep Good Records: Keeping good records is critical for any landlord-tenant dispute. I would guess that over 90% of the problems that landlords run into come from not having proper documentation for their tenancies, such as all efforts that the landlord took to maintain the rental unit. This, in my opinion, was a critical reason why the jury found in favor of my clients: the landlord had nothing to support its alleged defenses to my clients’ claims.
- Don’t Take a Security Deposit: Massachusetts’s security deposit law is a disaster waiting to happen for landlords. Failure to comply with this law can result in steep penalties and expenses to a landlord. For this reason, landlords are best off not taking a security deposit from a tenant. In my case, a large portion of the landlord’s liability would have been avoided if they followed this advice.
- Be Reasonable About Settling a Landlord-Tenant Dispute: No one is perfect, and landlords and tenants can easily make a mistake that subjects them to legal liability. If this is the case, the landlord or tenant should settle sooner than later. In this case, my clients made a settlement offer that was lower than the amount of money that the jury awarded to them! If the landlord had taken this offer, they would have saved a lot of time and money.
I couldn’t be happier about the outcome of this case. For my clients, this case wasn’t simply about money; it was about principle. As an attorney who represents landlords and tenants, I often believe that Massachusetts law can favor tenants at the expense of landlords. In this case, I believe that these laws served their intended purpose.
I don’t want to imply that every tenant deserves this outcome, or that every landlord is in the wrong. I represent many landlords as well, and can attest that the overwhelming majority attempt to do the right thing. But in this case, I’m pleased that this landlord was held accountable.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant dispute, contact me for a consultation.