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The Current Issues:
Let’s get a rent escrow law passed!
A top priority
SPOA considers passage of a rent escrow law to be a top priority. An escrow law for Massachusetts would stop the “free rent trick,” one of the most serious abuses that can affect any rental property owner. Stopping the free rent trick would begin to erase the hostile, anti-landlord atmosphere found in our courts and inspectional system.
The State Legislature is getting ready to pass (or not pass) a mandatory rent escrow law some time during the current legislative session. NOW is the time to write or contact your elected representatives and urge them to vote for an effective mandatory rent escrow law! The bill SPOA is supporting is House Bill No. 1284 (or “H.1284” for short). Refer to this number when you write your state legislators.
Why we need a rent escrow law
Currently in Massachusetts, the most serious threat to every rental property owner is the all-too-common abuse of our state’s rent withholding law, what we call the “free rent trick.” Any tenant who stops paying rent and receives an eviction notice can call in a housing inspector, get code violations cited, and assert a claim that they are “withholding rent” for the violations.
As long as an apartment has unrepaired violations, a nonpaying tenant cannot be evicted. So, naturally, in order to delay eviction and live rent-free, the tenant often refuses to let the landlord or repairman in to make repairs. Sometimes the tenant damages the apartment and creates new code violations, repeating this process as long as he can get away with it. The owner must simultaneously push forward with eviction and attempt arduously to make repairs, all while receiving no rent. The tenant’s actions delay eviction, and when a judge finally orders the eviction, the tenant moves on, having lived rent-free for months and months on end. While most or all of the “withheld” rent is legally owed to the landlord, he never gets it.
How a rent escrow law would work
The solution to this abuse of rent withholding is a rent escrow law. Currently, rent escrowing is totally at the discretion of judges, it involves a long hearing, and it’s almost never ordered. A mandatory rent escrow law would require any tenant who is claiming rent withholding to pay the withheld rent to the court month by month until code violations are repaired. After repairs are done, either the landlord and tenant agree on how the escrowed rent should be divided, or a judge orders a fair settlement. In most cases, the owner will get back most of the escrowed withheld rent. But the most important part of mandatory rent escrowing is that those nonpaying tenants who do not escrow can be promptly evicted for nonpayment of rent. Although nonpayment evictions will still take about three months, and owners will lose about three months of rent, much-longer-delayed evictions and the free rent trick will be stopped.
How to learn more
Click here to read much more about the free rent trick and mandatory rent escrowing.
What you can do
Write, call or email your own state senator and representative and tell them you want them to support a strong, mandatory rent escrow law for Massachusetts. Refer to House Bill No. 1284, which is drafted by SPOA. For more tips on writing to your state legislators, click here:
Writing or talking to your elected officials
Why. Our elected officials usually get only two or three messages from their constituents about any particular piece of legislation. So when they get dozens of messages from small property owners on an issue, they sit up and listen! Each message tells them there are hundreds of more small property owners in their voter base who feel exactly the same way you do.
Who. In general, you should always write your own elected officials, your State Senator and State Representative. To find who your State Senator and State Representative are, go to: www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.php. Follow the steps. You are looking for “Senate in General Court” and “Rep in General Court.”
The State House address for all legislators is State House, Room___, Boston, MA 02133. You should address them as “The Honorable (title and name of person)”
It is also important to contact the State Legislature’s leadership. In other words, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, and the Chairpersons of the Committee. These people are critical in getting bills to move forward or to stop them. They must be convinced of the merits of our position.
Senate President Therese Murray at:
or write her at State House, Room 332, Boston, MA 02133
Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo at:
or write him at State House, Room 356, Boston, MA 02133.
Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Senator Cynthia Creem at:
Or write her at State House, Room 405, Boston, MA 02133
Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Representative Eugene O’Flaherty at:
or write him at State House, Room 136, Boston, MA 02133
How. Should you write, fax or email a message? Should you phone call? A written letter is always the best. It shows you took the time; it shows your commitment on the issue. Faxing a letter is almost as good, and may be the only way to get your message through fast enough before a critical deadline vote. Emailing is, of course, fast and easy, and every email received by an elected official is read and tallied as for or against a particular issue. A phone call works for those without email.
What. Whether you write, fax, email or call, remember these tips:
1. Always be courteous and keep your message short.
2. Identify your topic or concern at the start, including a reference to the bill number, if possible.
3. State your position for or against it, and ask your legislator to take the same position you favor.
4. Explain briefly in your own words the reasons why you take the position you do.
5. If you have had a personal experience that leads you to your position, tell your story briefly.
6. End by again asking your elected official to please vote for or against the issue you are writing about.
7. Give your name and street address so they can identify you as a constituent.
Writing your Representatives
Should you write, fax or email a message? Should you phone call? A written letter is always the best. It shows you took the time. And every letter tells an elected official that there are 20 or 30 or 100 more people in his or her district with the same viewpoint as yours. Faxing a letter is almost as good, and may be the only way to get your message through fast enough before a critical deadline vote. Emailing is, of course, easy and fast, and every email is read and tallied as for or against a particular issue. A phone call works for those without email.
Whether you write, fax, email or call, remember to be courteous always and keep your message short. Identify your topic or concern at the start, including a reference to the bill number, if possible. State your position for or against it, and then say why. If you have had a personal experience that leads you to your position, like being ripped off by a tenant playing the “free rent trick,” tell your story briefly.
It is also important to emphasize the public benefits to your position. For example, a good mandatory rent escrow law in Massachusetts will not only protect small property owners from serious harm and financial loss caused by unscrupulous tenants, but it will also improve the supply of rental housing by making it safer to be a landlord.
Who are my Elected Officials?
Click here to go to the State Election Division’s web page that will allow you to determine your elected officials.
Get Action Alerts by email
For those members with email, it’s a MUST-DO to sign up on SPOA’s email list (totally confidential, never given out). Just click on the following link and send us your email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Register to vote
Legislators will listen most of all to registered voters in their district. That’s who elect them. Their future as legislators depends on their voters. When you write them, they will often check to see if you are a registered voter in their district. So it is very important for you to be a registered voter.
How to register to vote
Click here to go directly to the State’s Election Division website that tells you how to register. You cannot actually register online (too risky for fraud), but you can request online that they send you a mail-in registration form. Or, alternatively, this site can tell you where your local Election Commission office is, and you can go there in person to register.