In April 2016, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), through its Office of General Counsel issued new guidelines regarding the use of criminal records by providers of housing and real estate-related transactions in screening rental applicants. Specifically, landlords will need to take a look at their current policy and modify same as it relates to the use of criminal history in screening rental applicants. HUD determined that if a landlord’s policy or procedure regarding the use of criminal history in screening rental applicants has a disparate impact on individuals of a protected class then landlords must demonstrate that a denial of housing serves a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest, or if such interest could be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect.
A landlord will essentially have to evaluate a rental applicant’s criminal record on a case-by-case basis. A landlord will not be allowed to just have a blanket policy or procedure allowing for the denial of rental applicants with any criminal record of conviction. HUD indicates that criminal arrests and even in certain cases, prior criminal convictions will not be sufficient to deny housing to a rental applicant. A landlord will ultimately have the burden of proving a demonstrable risk to the safety of other residents and/or property when denying a rental applicant housing based on criminal history or record. Ultimately, a landlord will now have to look into the particulars of a rental applicant’s criminal conviction, such as the nature, severity and time period of the criminal conduct prior to rendering a decision to deny an applicant housing. It is important to note that there is a statutory exemption from liability under the Fair Housing Act for exclusion because of illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance. However, this exemption has specific limitations which are mentioned in more detail in the HUD guidelines.
At or prior to the commencement of a tenancy in Massachusetts, a landlord may only accept the following monies from a tenant:
First Month's Rent;
Last Month's Rent;
Security Deposit (not to exceed one month's rent); and
Key Charge (equal to purchase & installation costs for a key and lock)
Any additional monies accepted can result in a landlord being held liable under Massachusetts law and subject said landlord to treble damages and attorney's fees.
The City of Boston has enacted a new apartment inspection ordinance, specifically 9-1.3 which is applicable to all apartments not occupied by the owner, including condominium units. There are some exceptions for licensed lodging house, units owned or operated by Federal, State or City governments and owner-occupied buildings containing no more than six units. Landlords will be required to register no later than July 1st of each year with the Inspection Services Department (“ISD”) identifying the property by street address and number of units that they own at each address. Landlords shall complete a form provided and approved by ISD in which they will attest and affirm that they are familiar with their obligations to comply with this section, the State Sanitary Code and Building Code, federal state and local fair housing regulations and all other regulations applicable to residential dwellings and that they intend to comply with said regulations.
An owner owning multiple units in the same building may submit one form representing all said units. All rental unit registrations shall be recorded for an initial fee of $25.00 per rental unit and annual renewal fees of $15.00 for each unit. Any owner who does not live in Massachusetts must also designate a Boston-based resident agent to accept service of process on the owner’s behalf. All non-exempt rental units must be inspected at least once every five (5) years. There are certain situations where inspections conducted by the Boston Housing Authority, Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, or other Federal, State or City inspection programs that are accepted by ISD as being substantially equivalent, may be used to satisfy this 5-year inspection requirement. Failure to comply with this Ordinance subjects Landlords to fines of $300.00 per month and for “chronic offenders” fines and possible court prosecution.