5 Biggest Mistakes Landlords Make #4: Unknowingly Discriminating Against Children

Many  Massachusetts Landlords know about the law ( MGL 111 s. 189A-199B etc) that prohibit the renting of a lead-paint apartment to a family with a child under six years old. What most landlords don’t know is that it is illegal to REFUSE renting to a family with a child!

Specifically, MGL 151B s. 4(11) provides:

..It Shall be illegal for the owner, sublessees, real estate broker…to refuse to rent or lease or sell or otherwise to deny to or withhold from any person [an apartment] because such person has a child or children….

A head scratcher isn’t it? On their face, the laws contradict each other….RIGHT?  The SJC however, has ruled that the laws do not contradict each other, but rather that they work in tandem. Not only are you subject to criminal liability for renting to a child with lead-based paint in your unit, but you are prohibited from refusing to rent to them! If you know your apartment has lead paint, you advertise, and you are approached by a family with children, you can not refuse renting to them! What does this translate into? It means that you have to de-lead the unit which can cost into the tens of thousands of dollars, just to accommodate the under-6 year old!

What to take away from all of this: You can not advertise online or in print in any way that discriminates against renting to children. Logically, this would include provisions in your ad that state “This apartment has lead paint” or something along the lines of “Hey.. If you have a child under six.. there’s no way I’m renting to you!” Take heed, as even the best of us in the rental industry have fallen victim to this legislative conundrum.

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Mistake # 5: The Self-Help Eviction

I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve gotten from Massachusetts Landlords that have engaged in self-help evictions over the past year. Self help evictions are when the Landlord either:
1-Physically locks the tenant out of their apartment by changing the locks;
2-Interferes with the tenant’s utilities so as to make the premises unlivable (for example, intentionally turning the heat off in the middle of winter), or
3-Otherwise interferes with the premises making the apartment uninhabitable.

Under G.L ch. 186 secs. 14 and 15F a landlord that engages in this type of activity is not only liable civilly for multiple damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs, but CRIMINALLY. That is, Landlords that engage in this type of behavior can be put in jail. I recently witnessed the statute(s) in action in Northeast Housing Court when a Landlord was placed under arrest in the Court Room after it was established that he intentionally locked a mother of three out of their Lowell Duplex.

To avoid liability under the self-help statute, Massachusetts Landlords need to proceed lawfully and commence a summary process action to evict the occupants. You’d be surprised how many landlords take the law into their own hands and attempt one of the above.

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Top 5 Mistakes Landlords Make.

This is the first of a 5-part series on “Top 5 Mistakes Landlords Make.” Check back to see what rounds out the five most frequent mistakes I have come across as an attorney and as a landlord for the past 16 years.

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Welcome to the Rental Attorney Blog

Welcome to the Rental Attorney Blog. My name is John Keramaris, I’m an attorney from Woburn, MA. I devote over 60% of my practice to Landlord Tenant matters. This includes Summary Process Evictions, Code Enforcement and Rental Premises Liability.

Over the next day, week, month, year I will be posting articles and linking videos, and sites relevant to Landlord Tenant Law in MA.

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