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Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin, LLC
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Massachusetts Landlords Need to Write Their Own Noise Rules

The Massachusetts general laws, Chapter 186, Section 14 impose potential penalties on any lessor or landlord who directly or indirectly interferes with the quiet enjoyment of any residential premises by the occupant, but what does that really mean? Certainly when it comes to taking action against noisy tenants who affect other tenants — or even individuals in neighboring buildings — landlords receive no similar protections.

Since defining unreasonable noise levels can be very subjective, any Boston lease lawyer would most likely confirm that dealing with residential tenant noise issues can seem like a no-win situation from a legal standpoint. However, by taking a proactive approach, landlords can get these issues under control.

Unreasonable Noise Needs to be Defined Within the Lease

Tenants who live in an apartment beneath a night-shift worker who must necessarily walk around at the time they go to bed may have few perfect solutions. Perhaps that worker might agree to dress in another room to reduce the noise — and the landlord might agree to fix squeaky floorboards or add carpeting — but occasional wake-ups are bound to happen.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, a tenant may decide to take up drum-playing, which can make neighbors livid at any hour of the day. Still, unreasonable noise to one person is within reason to another. Landlords can help prevent disputes by setting basic noise standards within their lease agreements. At a minimum, these standards should cover the following:

Time of day: Establish quiet hour limitations, defining what activities are permitted and not permitted during this daily time period.
Volume specifications: Define the maximum decibel level for music or other noise-making activities (such as use of power tools). Make sure the standard defines whether the level falls within the unit that is the source of the noise or the unit where the noise can be heard.
Number of neighbor complaints: Of course, neighbor complaints can be highly subjective, not to mention that one neighbor might complain multiple times while others do not recognize a noise problem. Still, it might be possible to add language that indicates how neighbor complaints will be addressed, and how many complaints are too many.

Noise Issues Can Have a Profound Effect on Landlords

Dealing with constant tenant complaints is, at the very least, a time-consuming and stressful effort for landlords. However, it can also cause unnecessary rental turnover as good tenants choose to move out.

Adding noise specifications to lease agreements must meet two overall goals: it must, of course, ensure that building noise falls within the parameters set by local ordinance, and it must also identify compromises that help keep the entire rental community happy. Establishing the right standards can be tricky, so it is best to work with an attorney who has successfully drafted noise clauses that can meet all legal requirements. Call the Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin at (617) 848-4572 for the help needed to keep excessive noise under wraps.

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Living Conditions Can Provide an Effective Defense Against Eviction

After making repeated attempts to get landlords to make needed repairs to their apartments, many tenants see no other options than to withhold rent to send a message. The details behind these issues are paramount in determining when rent withholding is a legally-viable option.

However, even though you may be within your legal rights to withhold rent until your unit meets certain standards, this is of little comfort when you receive an eviction notice. A Boston tenant eviction lawyer can help you retain your legal rights in these cases while reducing the stress of a complex legal process.

MA Renters Have the Right to Units That Meet Certain Health Standards

Most people do not stop to analyze conditions that meet the basic needs of any renter, but the state of Massachusetts has done this important work. In fact, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health lists nearly 50 specific minimum standards that must be met for human habitation. These standards cover every imaginable aspect of a livable dwelling, from the required components in a bathroom to reasonable unit temperatures.

The standards are highly-detailed and renters who believe their dwellings do not meet the basic requirements may have a valid reason for complaining.

Four Important Steps for Handling Unlivable Conditions

In many cases, notifying a landlord of substandard living conditions sets the wheels in motion to start needed repairs. When landlords refuse to take action or delay too long, however, four basic steps can protect your rights.

Step 1: Capture evidence. Prepare for the possibility of a courtroom case, even if you have not yet received an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. Make a list of complaints. Take pictures of damaged areas or anything that does not meet code, if applicable. Find witnesses willing to testify to substandard conditions. Of course, make sure you have evidence that you have contacted the landlord in writing, without a response within a reasonable time period.
Step 2: Schedule an inspection. Contact your local City or Town Hall to find out who handles inspections and make an appointment for someone to look at your home. Be prepared to present the inspector with a list of issues and the dates when your landlord knew about them.
Step 3: Go through the inspection, and get documentation. The inspector prepares a code report during the visit. Ask for a signed and certified copy of this report, along with any repair orders and a receipt for the return of service sent to the landlord.
Step 4: Make your unit available for repairs. Naturally, you must allow reasonable time for the landlord to respond to the order — and allow access to your unit.
If repairs are not made within a reasonable time period, you may have the right to withhold rent. However, the law has strict rules governing rent withholding. Even if you do everything by the book, the landlord may choose to begin the eviction process.

This is why the best time to seek legal guidance is before you begin withholding rent — or even when you first realize that the landlord does not intend to make repairs. The Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin can advise you of your rights, guide you through all preliminary steps and help you prepare in the event that you receive a notice of eviction. Call us at (617) 848-4572 to get the full legal support you need.

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Landlords Retain Certain Premise Entry Rights for Rental Properties

It is not difficult to understand why tenants do not want their landlords to have unfettered access to their rental properties. Residential renters see their apartments as their homes. Anything disturbed during an unexpected visit raises immediate fears of burglary or other criminal activities. Businesses have similar anxieties, compounded by concerns about other businesses spying or theft of trade secrets. These are some of the reasons why Massachusetts law places certain limits on the property access rights of landlords.

Still, there are circumstances when a landlord needs to access rental properties — with or without prior notification. To avoid legal disputes and possible penalties, landlords who have any doubts about their entry rights should talk with a Boston landlord lawyer before walking in the door.

Landlords Retain Entry Rights Under Specific Conditions

Naturally, landlords need to access rental units for many reasons. Section 15B. (1) (a) of the Massachusetts General Law does a good job anticipating those reasons, setting forth the times when landlord entry is permitted, as follows:

• To make repairs
• To show a unit to a prospective tenant or purchaser
• In accordance with a court order
• When a rental unit appears to be abandoned
• To conduct a pre-termination inspection to identify property damage

Common Courtesy is a Good Rule of Thumb

More times than not, landlords can easily conduct their business on a non-emergency basis. In other words, most situations generally allow them to notify tenants and schedule visits during mutually-convenient times. Even though the law does not specifically define situations when prior notification is not required, it does expect landlords to act reasonably.

So, for example, when a landlord wanders into an apartment unannounced, surprising a tenant sitting in the living room watching TV, it would be reasonable for that tenant to have expected a phone call — or at least a knock on the door — prior to the visit. At the very least, tenants in that situation may have a powerful reaction to this type of visit. In fact, they could pursue a temporary restraining order to prevent future occurrences.

Still, some tenants may try to prevent any reasonable landlord visits, regardless of the reasons behind them. In fact, barring any lease language to prevent it, they may go so far as to change the locks to prevent unauthorized access. The Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin strongly advises clients to include strong language in the lease to prevent situations like these. Call us at (617) 848-4572 in the event that reasonable access to tenant units becomes an issue or to take action to help prevent future concerns.

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Landlords generally view the rental of residential property largely as an income-generating business, viewing cash flow in and out as primary issues. Tenants see that same rental more personally since it pertains to a home that provides safety and comfort to their families. When disputes arise, they often end up going through a time-consuming courtroom process that is subject to complex laws and procedures.

By choosing a mediated settlement assisted by an experienced Boston landlord dispute lawyer, both parties have greater flexibility in finding viable solutions to their issues. They can emerge with better relationships that allow them to put past issues aside and move forward with greater mutual understanding.

Mediation Can Make Sense for a Wide Array of Dispute Issues

In essence, mediation places a neutral third party between disputing landlords and tenants, almost like a courtroom judge. However, while a judge is held to results driven by complex legal statutes, mediators can help both parties find innovative solutions to their issues beyond the absolute boundaries of the law.

For example:

• Where judges might look at eviction as the only solution for non-payment of rent, mediators might recognize situations that can be saved through negotiation, such as permitting tenants to pay reduced rent to help them get through a rough period, with future repayment terms to reimburse the landlord over time.

• Judges may offer no flexibility when requiring cash-strapped landlords to make costly repairs needed to meet state or building local code requirements. Mediators might help find innovative ways to bring buildings to code while reducing costs.

• Where judges may support eviction when tenants add residents beyond the time period that would constitute a visit, mediators can encourage modifications to the lease agreement to add sub-tenants for an increase in rent, particularly when the new people are acting in accordance with reasonable tenant standards.

Choosing Between Mediation and Court is Not Always Intuitive

Clearly, evictions can only be handled within the court system. Still, in many cases, neither the landlords nor the tenants benefit from a total separation. When the parties want to repair their relationship rather than end it, mediation provides a means for negotiating a fair solution for everyone.

When the next steps in a dispute are uncertain, the Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin can help all parties to understand the advantages and disadvantages of all available legal alternatives. Whether mediation, negotiation or full litigation is required, call us at (617) 848-4572 to identify your options and learn how we can help.

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Back in 1983, the Massachusetts courts declared a serious public emergency in rental housing (particularly for elderly, the handicapped and low-to-moderate income renters) caused by a lack of new rental housing production, increased housing costs and housing abandonment. At that time, they enacted legislation that set specific rules for condominium conversions and basically provided local municipalities with the right to exceed state provisions.

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As a general rule, renters throughout Massachusetts can expect an eventual eviction notice when they fail to pay their rent in full and on time. Through the years, however, state legislators have made a concerted effort to provide renters with rights to live in safe and fully-functioning residences.

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Most tenants pay rent in full and on time, but they can occasionally experience financial difficulties, such as the loss of a job or a sudden major medical expense, which temporarily prevents or reduces rent payment. While a landlord may choose to negotiate a stop-gap measure to help these tenants get back on their feet, other tenants may have developed a history of nonpayment that requires eviction.

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Particularly when friends or family are involved, people who rent their homes often believe these rentals are informal matters. However, the moment homeowners agree to allow someone to move into a home in exchange for payment, they form a legally-binding landlord-tenant relationship under Massachusetts law. Without counsel from an experienced Boston landlord lawyer, they can face painful and expensive legal issues down the road.

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