Lease agreement

Is your lease format a minefield of illegal clauses and demands just waiting to blow up on you with an explosion of tenant lawsuits?

Whether you are leasing multi-family apartment buildings or single family homes in Massachusetts, even what you may think is a ‘standard lease form’ could land you in huge legal trouble today.

Massachusetts isn’t known as the friendliest state for private landlords, making it essential for those with properties in Auburn, Worcester, Shrewsbury and the surrounding areas to be on the defensive at all times.

Tenants are wise to protect their rights and there are bad landlords out there they should be guarded against but all too often today this goes way too far with renters on the lookout for any excuse to withhold rent or haul their landlords into court and milk every penny out of them they can. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to end up in this situation today either.

More than ever tenants are now being exhaustive in their move-in inspection reports and are now often doing an equally thorough job of screening landlords and doing due diligence on the properties they are interested in renting.

However, it is still leases which are among the most problematic issues for landlords.

Whether you draft your own or use a ‘standard’ form it is critical to make sure all clauses are legal for use in Massachusetts and they are filled out with flawless precision

There are many clauses which local landlords have come to believe are acceptable because others use them but which can result in loss of rent and extremely costly legal battles.

Some of the most common issues which get Mass. landlords in trouble include:

  • Demanding tenants make all repairs
  • Collecting illegal upfront fees beyond the 4 which are allowable
  • Trying to sue tenants for balance of a lease without attempting to replace them first
  • Disturbing tenants, even if it is because they are disturbing the peace
  • Charging late fees before 30 days past due or structuring rent ‘discounts’
  • Illegally demanding payment of utilities
  • Charging pet deposits or additional pet rental fees

Landlords also need to realize that they can’t just write in whatever clauses they like and just because they may get away with forcing a tenant to sign to something, doesn’t make it enforceable. Worse, you can get in trouble for attempting it.

Even more startling for landlords is the fact that they can get in trouble for verbal comments and promises as well. Pre-screen tenants carefully, because even promising to rent to someone or taking money to hold an apartment or home upfront can open the door to tenants actually suing and getting a court order to force landlords to let them move in. You can just imagine how well that relationship and tenancy is going to play out.

The solution? Having an expert real estate attorney on hand is one option but that is hardly profitable and can quickly dig into cash flow if they need to be consulted every week. Perhaps a full service property management firm and all of the other benefits they bring to the table is the best bet for protection and maximizing rental property returns.