Cash for Keys: What Landlords Need to Know

Cash for keys is a popular alternative to the formal eviction process in Massachusetts. As an incentive for tenants to voluntarily leave a rental property, landlords can offer tenants money to move. Often, such deals can save landlords significant time and expense.

Here, I’ll discuss some important things that Massachusetts landlords should know about cash for keys.

Pros and Cons of Cash For Keys

For many landlords, the thought of offering money to a tenant (especially a non-paying tenant) is perplexing. However, basic economics can often make such agreements very viable for landlords. An eviction case can easily cost thousands of dollars in attorney fees and court costs. Offering a portion of that money to the tenant can sometimes avoid the entire process and lead to a much quicker outcome.

Cash for keys, however, isn’t always a good deal for landlords. If a tenant insists on an unreasonable amount of money, eviction may be the better option.

Cash for Keys Agreements Should Always Be in Writing

These agreements should always be in writing. Importantly, they need to include all of the deal’s relevant terms, including a specific date by which the tenant must vacate and a requirement that the tenant remove all of their possessions from the apartment.

Landlords should also require a tenant to waive all claims they might have against the landlord, arising out of the landlord-tenant relationship.

Cash for Keys Is Not A Substitute For A Formal Eviction

These kinds of agreements, importantly, are not a substitute for the formal eviction process in Massachusetts.

If a tenant does not leave the apartment, a landlord will still need to evict. If one of these agreements is reached as part of a settlement in an on-going eviction case, a landlord will still need to obtain the required execution for possession to have the tenants removed.

Final Thoughts

It can be beneficial to have an experienced attorney assist with one of these matters. If you need help in such a case, contact me for a consultation.

Evicting Tenants During COVID-19

Evicting tenants is a process that always requires prior planning and preparation. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the eviction process is slightly different and requires an even greater level of expertise.

Here, I’ll discuss what to know about evicting tenants during COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

Is an Eviction Necessary?

When deciding whether to evict a tenant, it is always worth considering whether an eviction is necessary. This usually comes up for non-payment of rent cases, where the landlord is seeking to evict solely because of unpaid rent (and not because of any problems with the tenant).

In such a case, it is worth seeing if the landlord or tenant can apply for assistance that can help with unpaid rent. Massachusetts’s Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (“RAFT”) is a state program designed for helping tenants in need. Some towns and cities, such as Malden, have local programs for helping avoid eviction.

New Eviction Requirements

Eviction requirements continue to change almost monthly as the pandemic continues. The existing federal CDC moratorium is in place until December 31, 2020 (any may get extended).

Massachusetts recently passed new requirements for eviction notices to quit. This adds new disclaimers for non-payment of rent cases.

New Eviction Procedures

For the eviction process itself, the biggest change is how eviction cases begin. Pre-COVID, eviction hearings occurred on a weekly basis, with all sides required to attend court on a designated date, and go to trial if a resolution to the matter could not be reached.

Now, most evictions start with a status conference with the court staff, aimed at determining how both sides wish to handle the case. Importantly, an opportunity generally exists for a mediation to occur prior to getting deep into the eviction case.

This, in my opinion, is a welcome change in the Massachusetts eviction process, and one that I hope continues post-COVID. It makes much more sense to get landlords and tenants to start discussing a resolution of an eviction case as soon as possible, rather than spend time and money in court.

Final Thoughts

If you assistance with a Massachusetts eviction, contact me for a consultation.

Section 8 Evictions

foreclosure appeal

Section 8 evictions, compared to other residential evictions in Massachusetts, follow a slightly different set of rules and restrictions. This week, the Appeals Court issued a decision clarifying the required notice to quit for Section 8 evictions.

Ironically, I had been working on this exact issue the day before the Appeals Court issued this decision. I wish the courts would consult me before issuing their decisions!

What is Section 8?

Section 8 is a federal program that provides housing vouchers to those with low income. Section 8 caps the amount that participants must pay in housing (usually 30% of gross income) and subsidizes the rest.

Section 8, importantly, pays this voucher directly to the landlord and does not provide rental housing directly. Section 8 requires landlords and tenants to enter into a specific type of lease and rental paperwork.

Notices to Quit for Section 8 Evictions

Notices to quit are required for nearly every eviction in Massachusetts. For Section 8 evictions, however, the required paperwork for these tenancies have detailed requirements about what must be included in these notices, and include limitations on the potential grounds for eviction.

One of the central issues in this case was whether a Section 8 tenant, who had become a tenant at will (a “month-to-month” tenant) could be evicted for no-fault. Such a scenario occurs when a tenant has stayed pass the lease term, but continues to stay in the rental apartment and pay rent.

Typically, a tenancy at will can be ended by either the landlord or tenant, with no reason needed from either side. However, because the Section 8 paperwork seemed to suggest that a reason is needed for a Section 8 eviction, it remained unclear whether a no-fault eviction was ever allowed for Section 8 tenancies.

The court concluded that a no-fault eviction could be brought against a Section 8 tenant. However, unlike other no-fault evictions, the notice to quit for a Section 8 tenant is required to include an explanation for eviction. Even though no reason was required for the eviction, the landlord needed to expressly state that to the tenant in the notice.

Practical Implications

A paragraph at the end of this decision summarizes these points about evicting a Section 8 tenant:

This case demonstrates that landlords of Section 8 tenants
must be careful to comply with the notice provisions contained
in paragraph 8(g) of the HAP contract tenancy addendum even where the tenancy is at will. Those notice provisions do not
displace the landlord’s ability to terminate an at-will Section
8 tenancy, but they do require that the tenant receive notice of
the reason for the termination. That reason must be contained
either in the notice to quit or the summary process complaint.
Where there is cause for the termination, either the notice to
quit or the summary process complaint must so state; and the
same is true where there is no cause for the termination.

I would add that, in addition to specific requirements on notices to quit, Section 8 often requires that the housing administrator be notified of any eviction proceeding. For this reason, landlords need to review Section 8 paperwork carefully before starting the eviction process (or get the assistance of a qualified landlord-tenant attorney).

Conclusion

If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.

Buying a Foreclosed Home in Massachusetts

Buying a foreclosed property must be done with care. Compared to the purchase of other real property, foreclosed properties come with their own specific challenges.

Purchasing a foreclosed property usually occurs (1) at the public foreclosure auction sale or (2) from the bank or lender who foreclosed the property, commonly known as a real estate owned (“REO”) property.

Here, I’ll discuss some important topics for buying a foreclosed property.

Foreclosed Properties Are Often Sold “As Is”

Compared to the process of purchasing most other properties, buyers of foreclosed properties generally have few opportunities to inspect the property in advance. Moreover, in most sales of foreclosed properties, a buyer takes the property “as is”, and has limited recourse for any problems later arising in the property.

Title Problems With a Foreclosure Can Become the Buyer’s Problem

Massachusetts is known as a non-judicial foreclosure state, which means that a foreclosure can occur without a court case. Foreclosures, however, must be done with strict compliance under the law. An error in this process can invalidate the foreclosure sale, and can impede a subsequent buyer’s ownership of the property.

Not every error in the foreclosure process will affect the property’s title. However, a buyer of a foreclosed home needs to be mindful of the potential errors that can arise in the foreclosure process, and ensure that such issues have not occurred for the property they wish to purchase.

An Eviction Is Required for Occupants in the Home

If any occupants remain in a property after foreclosure, they must be evicted, through a formal court case. Any attempt to remove occupants without an eviction case is highly illegal and will lead to many problems down the road.

Compared to standard evictions, evictions for foreclosed homes are a slightly different process, and requires knowledge of Massachusetts foreclosure law. This is especially true if the occupant is the former homeowner, and wishes to challenge the foreclosure sale.

Final Thoughts

If you need assistance with buying a foreclosed home, contact me for a consultation.

Evicting Commercial Tenants in Massachusetts

Evicting commercial tenants is a different process than a residential eviction, which are more common in Massachusetts. Although commercial evictions often occur through the same court procedure, the underlining law is different.

With the existing eviction moratorium expected to expire in several weeks, commercial evictions will likely resume soon and, given the economic repercussions of COVID-19, be heavily litigated in the months ahead.

Filing a Commercial Eviction Case

Commercial eviction cases are generally through the same eviction process as residential cases, known as summary process. Summary process cases move at a much quicker pace than other civil cases.

Such cases are generally filed in District Court, but may be filed in Superior Court if the owed rent is at least $25,000.

Importantly, commercial evictions may not be brought in Housing Court.

Under Massachusetts law, business entities (ex. corporations, limited liability companies) and trusts must be represented by an attorney in court (except for small claims cases).

As most commercial landlords exist as a business entity or trust, it is important to have an attorney handling the case. Courts can and will dismiss an eviction if a non-attorney attempts to handle it on their own.

Fewer Defenses for Commercial Tenants

Compared to residential evictions, there are far fewer defenses available for tenants in commercial evictions . The law allows landlords to make commercial tenants largely responsible for the care and maintenance of the rented premises. Many laws protecting residential tenants, such as the onerous security deposit law, do not apply to commercial tenancies.

Final Thoughts

Evicting a commercial tenant must be done with care and with knowledge of the applicable laws and summary process rules. If you need assistance with such a matter, contact me for a consultation.

Eviction Mistakes: Untimely Filing of Court Documents

The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an important decision this week on eviction mistakes arising from the untimely filing of court documents. The full decision is below.

Evictions 101

Evictions, known in Massachusetts as “summary process” cases, are done to obtain possession of a rental property from tenants. The intended goal of these cases are to be “just, speedy, and inexpensive.”

With this in mind, evictions move at a much faster pace than most other cases. Evictions can end up in trial less than a month after being filed in court.

Eviction Mistakes: Not Timely Filing Court Documents

A critical part of eviction cases are the deadlines for filing documents. Court filings for eviction cases come with strict deadlines, and the failure to meet these deadlines can be fatal to one’s case.

In this case, the defendant wished to appeal an eviction decision, and filed the notice of appeal after the ten-day deadline. Compared to other types of cases, eviction cases come with an incredibly tight deadline, with little room for error if it is missed.

As this decision notes, case law holds that a court has no jurisdiction to hear an eviction appeal if one is filed after this deadline. Although the defendant’s attorney claimed he never received a written notice of the decision, and therefore did not know that the appeal deadline had begun, the Appeals Court nonetheless still dismissed the appeal.

Practical Implications

Years ago, I won an appeal on a nearly similar issue. These decisions emphasize a critical mistake to avoid with evictions: the importance of timely filing court papers. The failure to do so can be highly problematic in such a matter.

Like the Appeals Court, I am very sympathetic to the defendant in this case. Things do get lost in the mail, especially now, which can be a real problem for those involved in an eviction case (or other legal matter).

An important way to avoid this is to keep an eye on the online court docket for an eviction case. This way, if something is lost in the mail, you can still learn of the case status and when a decision is issued.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.

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Massachusetts Eviction Moratorium Goes to Court

The Massachusetts eviction moratorium, which has been in place since March, is off to court. A group of Massachusetts landlords have brought a lawsuit challenging the legality of this order, and have asked for a preliminary injunction, requesting that the court immediately stop the eviction ban while the case proceeds.

It would take much longer than a blog post to discuss all of the legal arguments for and against the Massachusetts eviction moratorium, but here’s a quick summary of some of the major points:

  • Landlords argue that the moratorium interferes with the right to access the courts, and the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches
  • Landlords argue that the ban is a constitutional “taking” of property, where landlords are deprived of property without compensation
  • Landlords argue that the eviction moratorium interferes with private contracts (leases)

This court case, which was filed in Suffolk Superior Court, is being followed by another legal action in federal court, concerning federal constitutional issues.

Attorney Richard Vetstein and Attorney Jordana Greenman represent the landlords, and did an superb job representing their clients. I’m not familiar with the attorneys who represented the Commonwealth, but they did an excellent job as well.

Judge Paul Wilson is hearing this case, and will be issuing a decision soon. I’ve had the opportunity to argue before Judge Wilson, and can attest that he is a good judge who will issue a well-reasoned decision on these important issues of law. Stay tuned.

If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, or have a question about the eviction moratorium, contact me for a consultation.

Evictions in Massachusetts on Hold Through October 2020

Evictions in Massachusetts are now on hold through October 2020, per Governor Baker’s extension of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium. The moratorium was set to expire on August 18th, and is now extended through October 17, 2020.

As I have written before, the eviction moratorium has put the brakes on nearly every eviction in Massachusetts. With the exception of emergency matters, no eviction cases may be filed until the end of the moratorium. Tenants still remain liable for rent, but without evictions, there is no immediate option for dealing with a non-paying tenant.

Without evictions in Massachusetts, what should landlords do?

  • For non-paying tenants, landlords should send monthly notices of owed rent. It is critical that such notices make it clear that no such eviction will occur during the moratorium.
  • Landlords can and should speak with tenants about problems that arise during the eviction moratorium, including unpaid rent. It may be possible to work the matter out with out court involvement, such as through a repayment plan.
  • Landlords should always keep good records of all landlord-tenant matters . . . especially now. If an eviction becomes necessary, such records are vital for a successful case.

I’ve heard from many landlords who are struggling during the eviction moratorium, and who are understandably concerned about the future. While the moratorium remains in place, it will pass . . . just like the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, if a landlord has a situation that they believe is a true emergency, they should speak to an experienced attorney. Even with the moratorium in place, I’ve been able to help landlords with some difficult tenant cases, and would be happy to speak with you about your matter. Contact me for a consultation.

Evicting a Tenant: What To Do

Evicting a tenant is the process required for obtaining possession of rental property. Evictions, known in Massachusetts as summary process, are done through an expedited court process; most often brought in Housing Court or District Court.

A recent news article reveals a disturbing trend about many landlords, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, attempting to evict tenants on their own; a process commonly referred to as “self-help evictions.” Self-help evictions are highly illegal in Massachusetts, and can get landlords in an enormous amount of trouble.

Evicting a Tenant: When Is It Required?

An eviction case is required for obtaining possession against any tenant, regardless of the reason why the eviction is necessary. Although there is a limited exception for tenants engaging in illegal behavior, an eviction is generally required in every other circumstance.

No Self-Help Evictions

A “self-help eviction” is a case where a landlord attempts to remove a tenant from the rental property without a formal court case. Changing the locks, cutting off utilities, and threatening a tenant can all be considered a self-help eviction, and are expressly forbidden under Massachusetts law.

An eviction case requires a landlord, in most cases, to provide the tenant with a notice to quit, serve the tenant with a formal eviction summons, and appear in court. The process takes time and, understandably, can be frustrating, especially when it is against a non-paying tenant.

Presently, there is an eviction moratorium in Massachusetts, which is preventing the filing of almost all eviction cases for the foreseeable future. As such, it is understandable why some landlords may be tempted to bypass a formal eviction case against a tenant. Doing so, however, is a terrible idea, and will be far more trouble than it is worth.

Conclusion

Instead of considering a self-help eviction, contact me for a consultation. While evictions are not going forward now, I can explain the process to you, what can be done in the meantime, and how to prepare for such an action when the courts reopen.

Trusts in Massachusetts Courts: Do You Need a Lawyer?

The Massachusetts Appeals Court last month issued an important decision about trusts in Massachusetts courts, on whether a lawyer is needed to represent such entities. The full decision, Braxton v. City of Boston, is included below.

Although I am writing this as a blog post about landlord-tenant law, this issue regarding trusts in Massachusetts courts is equally relevant to other areas of law, especially real estate matters.

What is a Trust?

A trust is a property interest held by one person for the benefit of others. Trusts have become a common means of passing property to others without having to do a formal probate proceeding. A trust is generally run by a trustee, who runs it for the beneficiaries.

Trusts are a common means of holding real estate. When placed into a trust, the trust becomes the owner of the property.

Trusts, importantly, can sue, and be sued in Massachusetts courts.

Trusts in Massachusetts Courts: Get a Lawyer!

Braxton concerned a simple question: does a trust need to be represented by a lawyer in court?

Prior cases make it clear that a corporation or limited liability company (“LLC”) need an an attorney for a court proceeding (except small claims). The rationale is that an organized business is a separate legal entity, and not the same as the individuals who own it. Braxton, to the best of my knowledge, is the first case to address whether this rule also applies to a trust.

In Braxton, the Appeals Court ruled that trusts, like businesses, must also be represented by a lawyer in court. This ruling makes sense: a trust, like a business, is a separate legal entity, and it makes little sense to require a business to have an attorney represent it in court, but not a trust.

Limited Exception: Filing a Notice of Appeal

Braxton recognizes a limited exception to this rule: the filing of a notice of appeal. An appeal is a court case that reviews a lower court decision. To do an appeal, one must file a notice of appeal by a fixed deadline after a final decision in a case is reached. For civil matters, this deadline is generally thirty days. (eviction appeals are ten days, and zoning appeals are twenty days).

A notice of appeal must be filed by this deadline; if it is not, the appeal can get dismissed. In Braxton, a trust wished to appeal a court decision, but no longer had a lawyer representing it. Rather than miss the appeal deadline, it went ahead and filed a notice of appeal without an attorney. The question for the Appeals Court was whether this was an adequate notice of appeal.

The Court ruled that in such a scenario, where a trust no longer had an attorney, it was proper for a trustee to file the notice of appeal on its own, with the caveat that the trust needs to find a lawyer ASAP. This ruling applies to business entities as well: a corporate officer can also file a notice of appeal for a corporation or LLC if it does not have a lawyer.

The rationale of this rule, in my opinion, is the need to meet appeal deadlines. It would be unfair to deprive a trust or business with the right to appeal solely because it does not have an attorney by the deadline date.

Practical Implications

A trust, like a business entity, needs a lawyer for court proceedings. Although Braxton recognizes an exception to this rule, this exception appears to be a narrow, limited one. Recent cases show that Massachusetts courts are not tolerant of non-lawyers practicing law. The consequences for doing so can be severe.

Conclusion

If you need legal representation for an eviction, contact me for a consultation.

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