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Originally published in Haverhill Life, August 2018

Prior to becoming a landlord, a property owner should consider the fact that being a landlord requires adhering to several landlord-tenant laws. It is in a property owner’s best interest to get educated on the basic regulations before diving into the rental business. Many landlords learn the hard way just how complicated the role is, and find that out after they purchase a rental property. At ABC Real Estate Training Institute, we offer classes for property owners, real estate agents and others eager to get into the rental business. Such a course is a great way to predict what could happen during real-life scenarios as a landlord.

Since Haverhill is on the border of New Hampshire, it is worth noting that the Massachusetts landlord tenant law (MGL c 186) and New Hampshire’s law (RSA-540)  have some similarities. However, several rules are very different. For example, at the start of a rental agreement in Massachusetts, a landlord can typically collect from a tenant the first and last month’s rent.  A security deposit that is no more than the amount of one month’s rent may also be collected. In New Hampshire, the only fees that may be collected are the first month’s rent and a security deposit.

When a residential tenant is evicted and leaves their belongings behind at a property located in Massachusetts, that landlord must put those belongings in a professional storage facility for six months. By contrast, a New Hampshire-based landlord has to keep belongings in a safe place for just seven days.

I have been a landlord for over 35 years and have to say that even though it is a lot of work, I would recommend becoming a landlord—as long as you’re willing to really educate yourself. The responsibilities that come with being a landlord are not for everyone.

Be especially careful with lead paint regulations: They are extremely serious and landlords in noncompliance could face civil and/or criminal penalties. All apartments in Massachusetts built before 1978 where a child under six years old resides must have a lead paint certificate issued by a State licensed lead inspector. These lead certificates cost anywhere from $500 to $50,000 depending on the extent of the lead hazard that has to be remediated.

In addition to being familiar with lead paint laws and associated penalties, landlords must understand fair housing laws, how to properly collect a security deposit, polices surrounding eviction, property management specifics and state sanitary codes, among other topics.

Choosing a tenant can also be daunting. There are so many rules on what a landlord can and cannot say to a prospective tenant. For example, a landlord is not permitted ask a prospective tenant if they are married, a veteran, or inquire about one’s national origin.  These and other probing questions are considered fair housing violations. Many landlords unknowingly violate the law before a prospective tenant ever moves in.

Fair housing law is a very important aspect of the rental business. One of my ABC Real Estate Training students had to pay a $10,000 fine for an apartment ad that specifically categorized a neighborhood as a “great family neighborhood,” which is language that could be misconstrued as trying to attract a certain kind of tenant.

In Massachusetts, prior to having a tenant move in, a property must be inspected by the Board of Health to make sure there are no sanitary health code violations. The typical cost for this inspection is $50.

Landlords should make sure a real estate attorney provides the most current and legal lease documents, statements of condition, deposit receipts and lead paint disclosures specifically.

Much, much more could be said on the topic, but I will leave you with this advice: If you decide to become a landlord, I beg you to spend lots of time learning state laws, rules and regulations. There are several good books and courses available to help landlords stay out of trouble. My other top tip is to consult a trusted attorney before making the leap into the rental world.