I’m not entirely sure how the law works surrounding housing issues in other states but one great attribute of the Massachusetts government is that it appears to go to great lengths to protect the rights of its tenants. Many people falsely believe that as an owner or large management company, landlords and other similar authoritative figures secure all the power in a landlord/tenant relationship. Of course, it’s easy to fall into that belief when you know you have no money to put toward taking certain actions for yourself that require it. People often get discouraged when confronted with a landlord/tenant issue because they automatically assume that any significant justice to their case must be taken care of with a lawyer or in small claims court, both which usually cost money. But in actuality, there are many matters that can be easily resolved with a simple letter to the landlord. Now, obviously, if the landlord is trying to cheat you in some way, an ordinary letter asking them not to probably isn’t going to cut it. But write them a little note citing laws, statutes and higher authorities you have consulted and you just may scare them enough into cooperating.
There are a lot of rights out there protecting the tenant during housing disputes. Some of the more commonly referred to include those surrounding eviction and security deposits. Did you know that in Massachusetts and many other US states, to actually evict you, a landlord must go through a series of dedicated efforts and perform such tasks as: Repeated visits to the courthouse or police department, the filling out of several forms, a payment virtually every time they do any of this, and the construction of, in most places, three or more different notifications to be submitted to you. Did you also know that in many states, the money owed form your security deposit must be given to you within 30 days after the termination of the lease or else the landlord or owner can be rightfully sued for up to three times the original amount?
Most people don’t know such facts as these or the plenty of laws like them. And I suppose it would be impractical to expect someone to study up on all the ins and outs of their state’s housing regulations before any problem even arises, as purely a measure of precaution. It would feel pointless. But renters should be aware that conflicts between landlord and tenants are probably more common than not and to educate oneself on at least the overall basics of the housing procedures would be very wise. If one needs a proper excuse to look into them, a good time is before the signing of a new lease agreement. After all, the lease in many instances, carries the most weight in the end when it comes to an argument of interest. Do yourself a favor and just dedicate a little time to learning about the standard lease agreement, what should be on it, etc. And for an even better and possibly more interesting place to start, you should search online for the most common matters of landlord/tenant dispute, particularly in relation to the lease signing interaction. This will at least get you through the first step and then you can look up the other matters as they arise during your tenancy.
The only other topic I feel is imperative to promote is knowledge surrounding security deposits and the common scandals many landlords try to and often do get away with in regards to it. This is an important topic that one should be aware of prior to signing the lease. If you want a quick, relevant overview just to familiarize yourself with the whole security deposit general guidelines, you may want to check out another article of mine titled “You Have Rights As A Tenant: Beware of the Security Deposit Scandal”, which you can find on the Associated Content website through this page: http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/5138/lori_voth.html
If by any chance you find the topic of tenants rights, housing laws and landlord/tenant disputes interesting or relevant to your current needs, there are some great sources online with detailed information, according to your particular state. A simple search in your choice search engine should take you to the place you need. There are tons of articles and fact sheets on this topic so don’t be hesitant to use very specific key words in your search. Chances are the matters you need answers about have been existing issues for ages and therefore, an array of quality results will show up. Unfortunately, housing problems are nothing new.
You should also know that there are a great many of resources available in communities all over the United States that employ professionals or qualified volunteers to assist you with more complicated and specific legal matters dealing with housing. And believe it or not, many of them are actually free of charge. If you are in need of immediate legal answers regarding a landlord/tenant dispute or a fair housing issue, and your online searches don’t seem to be giving you the information you need, you might consider investigating websites similar to the following sources. Here is a breakdown of various organizations designed to represent you and give you advice should you be considered about the violation of your tenant related rights. Due to an overload of resources on this subject, that are often specific to each of the 50 states, for the sake of brevity I will stick to listing only general links to help you find help in your state of residence, and I will offer more specific details about those places that offer housing assistance in my own state of Massachusetts. To find resources for your specific locale beyond the links provided below, take some of the terminology from the sites I have listed and use it in your exploration. Additionally, use the general type of organization or service listed below as a heading as one of your main keywords when performing your online housing research.
There are many different types of groups available to help individuals everywhere with their housing issues:
Local Networking Groups
You may not be aware of this, but believe it or not, there are a plethora of outreach organizations in virtually every US local community that operate for the sole purpose of defending and educating tenants when it comes to their rights. These groups are sometimes called Tenant Organizing or Advocacy Groups. They exist primarily to represent and aid individuals in the lower income sector of the particular cities they serve with various housing situations. Some common problems they encounter include evictions, discrimination and securing proper housing for the poor, elderly or disabled under the Fair Housing Act. Here is a comprehensive list of many of these groups serving cities all over Massachusetts, as recommended by the Boston Tenant Coalition:
57 School St
Springfield, MA 01105-1331
Email: [email protected]
This group deals with low income tenants in Western Massachusetts.
Central MA Housing Alliance
Email: [email protected]
Mainly assists people in Worcester but has been known to make exceptions. Most of their focus is on homelessness prevention. They also help with counseling for landlords and tenants and with a referral from the Department of Transitional Assistance, will assist you with your housing search.
City Life/Vida Urbana
PO Box 117
Jamaica Plain MA 02130
Email: [email protected]
This advocacy program performs a variety of great politically motivated services and outreach. It deals mostly with the Jamaica Plain area.
Eviction Free Zone
The only information given about this network was that it was an influential tenant voice in Cambridge, MA.
Legal Services for Cape Cod and Islands (LSCCI)
460 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Phone: Hyannis: 800-742-4107
Email: [email protected]
Helps protect elderly and low income tenants in their area from discrimination, eviction, lockouts, utility shutoffs, termination from housing programs, and poor housing conditions. Their geographical area of focus is in and around Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Nantucket and Eastern Plymouth County.
Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants
353 Columbus Ave
Boston, MA 02116-6005
Email: [email protected]
Helps assist and network individuals living in Section 8 housing projects in the Eastern Massachusetts area.
Tri-City Community Action Program
110 Pleasant street 2nd floor
Malden, MA 02148
Email: John Carey ([email protected])
According to Masstenants.net, they provide representation for low-income families in everything from housing authority matters to full legal representation (3 attorneys in-house, one paralegal). They serve Malden, Medford and Everett, Melrose and Wakefield. They also help individuals facing homelessness find new housing or shelter.
Community Development Corporations (or CDCs)
According to Masstenants.net, the official definition of a Community Development Corporation (CDC) is: A not-for-profit organization made up of community residents, businesses and other interested individuals who take on projects to improve economic and housing conditions in the community. These groups usually identify with a particular sector of the community, by racial, ethnic, possibly religious and/or city/town of residence. Then, depending on their area of focus, the members of the group will work toward the growth of the areas they represent, by offering various outreach programs and services to strengthen the community’s network and defend its residents rights. Again, here is a list of a few of these groups in Massachusetts. To find more, try looking at the official government website for your city or town of residence and go from there.
15 North Beacon St.
Allston MA 02134
No specifics given other than contact information.
Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC)
888 Washington St., Suite 102
Boston, MA 02111
Serves Asian residents in the greater Boston area with a major focus on revitalizing and preserving Boston’s Chinatown.
Codman Square Community Development Corp
The only information I found was that it served the Dorchester community.
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI)
504 Dudley Street
Roxbury, MA 02119
Multicultural Group of residents and a 29 person Board of Directors whose main goal is to help rebuild the Dudley Neighborhood of Boston.
73 Hemenway St Basement
Boston MA 02115
Serves the Fenway area.
Hyde Square Task Force
PO Box 1871
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Phone : 617-524-8303
Email : [email protected]
Serves the Jamaica Plain area with the intention to help primarily young people, but all individuals live in a safe, clean and friendly neighborhood.
Fair Housing Agencies
Every state has individual Fair Housing Advocates sprinkled throughout its various cities and towns. These groups work to help individuals who feel they are being discriminated against according to the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act under the federal government was designed to prevent tenants from being treated differently because of their race, color, country of origin, sex, religion, disability and family status. Agencies serving the Fair Housing Act is a great place to go if you feel you may be a victim of discrimination.
Here is a link to the Boston Fair Housing Center. It should provide you with many resources as well as contact information regarding where to turn locally.
For information on a Fair Housing Agency outside of Boston, follow this link. The National Fair Housing Advocate Online gives information on these groups all over the United States. Click here: http://www.boston.fairhousing.com/index.cfm?method=agency.search
Legal Services Programs
This name refers to various nonprofit organizations all over the United States that have a shared goal to provide legal assistance to individuals in their communities who cannot otherwise pay for it themselves. The groups are usually run by several attorneys who deal primary with matters commonly seen in the lower income sector of the American population. One of these issues happens to be housing conflicts in a broad range of subject areas. Depending on your income, you may qualify for legal help from one of your local Legal Services Programs free of charge.
This link will take you to NeighborhoodLaw.org, who will allow you to search for Legal Service Programs closest to the county where you reside. This site is Massachusetts based only. http://www.neighborhoodlaw.org/perl/services.cgi
To find a Legal Services Program in states other than MA, do a search online for “Legal Services Program” and your state of residence. That should pull up a great number of good results.
Community Action Programs (CAP) and Community Action Associations (CAA)
These groups, created by the federal government over thirty years ago, are designed as community advocates whose major mission is to “fight poverty through self-sufficiency”. Each state has several of these agencies set up in their city areas. Massachusetts has 24 of them, total. These groups are extremely resourceful and wonderful places to establish contacts with individuals of some kind of authority in various matters of housing, and also, life, overall; the representatives working at the agencies have the ability to actually make changes and pull some strings in certain situations where you alone cannot. These agencies cover a broad range of advocacy issues for the communities they serve; to find out what your local CAP or CAA can do for you, contact them directly. Some issues they deal with include nutritional and educational aid, financial assistance with things like utilities and other housing bills, referrals to proper legal services or individual attorneys, and help during emergency crisis situations.
Here is a link to the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) website, where you can select your MA town from a drop down menu and search for the contact information and/or appropriate website for the closest CAA or CAP near you.
This link to the Community Action Partnership National Website will help you find various CAPs and CAAs for your particular state, region and individual community.