The biggest mistake a landlord makes in owning rental properties is not treating their rental properties as a business. Obviously there are pillars of performance that need to be adhered to to find and keep happy residents, such as: tenant screening, knowing your numbers and strategy for the building, and keeping up with maintenance and repairs. Probably the most overlooked aspect of being a landlord are the building codes and state sanitary codes that clearly outline the specific performance expectations of your rental units.
In this blog post we will look at some of the most common and potentially riskiest areas where most landlords fail. The results can land you in a housing court law suit with the potential of paying out free rent to your resident, triple damages for non-compliance with these regulations, and some pretty hefty renovation and repair bills to bring the residence back into compliance.
1. Heat Requirements
How warm is warm enough? Make sure to check the heating in your apartment before you rent it out to a potential renter. Are you sure you are providing adequate heating in your rental units? Is your solution to no heat calls to show up with some space heaters, or even worse, cross your fingers and do nothing until it warms up a bit?
You need to know what is required under state sanitary code to provide the correct amount of required heat. The last thing you want is have a no heat call in the middle of the winter when there is a potential of frozen pipes, damage to your property, placing your renters in a health risk situation, or not being able to reach a licensed professional in the middle of a high demand market emergency. Think about it. If you are having emergency heat issues, there is a high probability that other landlords are calling the same plumber too trying to get emergency service.
105 CMR 410.201
410.201: Temperature Requirements
The owner shall provide heat in every habitable room and every room containing a toilet, shower, or bathtub to at least 68°F (20° C) between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M. and at least 64°F (17° C) between 11:01 P.M. and 6:59 A.M. every day other than during the period from June 15th to September 15th, both inclusive, in each year except and to the extent the occupant is required to provide the fuel under a written letting agreement. The temperature shall at no time exceed 78°F (25° C) during the heating season. The temperature may be read and the requirement shall be met at a height of five feet above floor level on a wall any point more than five feet from the exterior wall. The number of days per year during which heat must be provided in accordance with 105 CMR 410.000 may be increased or decreased through a variance granted in accordance with the provisions of 105 CMR 410.840 notwithstanding the prohibitions of the first clause of the first sentence of 105 CMR 410.840(A).
2. Light in Common Areas
How much light is enough and where and when do you need it? In buildings that you rent, there are specific guidelines to where and how much is enough. For interior hallways, you must have well lit stairs, hallways, and exits to provide safe passage through the common areas.
In some older rental buildings, it may be necessary to install lighting to these areas to avoid future problems that can occur from having to walk around in the dark of your common areas inside the building. Can you imagine living on the third floor of your apartment trying to climb the stairs in the dark with small children, groceries, or a bundle of laundry. Now, imagine having to do this every day you live in the building.
Light in Common Areas
105 CMR 410.254
410.254: Light in Passageways, Hallways, and Stairways
(A) Except as allowed in 105 CMR 410.254(B), the owner shall provide light 24 hours per day so that illumination alone or in conjunction with natural lighting shall be at least one foot candle as measured at floor level, in every part of all interior passageways, hallways, foyers and stairways used or intended for use by the occupants of more than one dwelling unit or rooming unit:
3. Resident Maintenance
Please do not get me wrong here. I am never an advocate of hiring a resident to do maintenance at the property. There are too many moving parts for liability and risk, and the need for written contracts to define expectations on both parties. What we are referring to here are the instances where a resident actually brings in their own equipment and appliances and ensuring a reasonable amount of responsibility for the maintenance and cleanliness of their rental unit.
Appliances like portable dishwashers that hook up to the kitchen sinks, and clothes washer and dryers bring with them the inherent risk of being couple with your building’s electrical and plumbing systems. Care must be taken to ensure that the hook up and responsibility of damages to your building by these appliances are clearly defined as the resident’s responsibility. Furthermore, state sanitary code requires that the resident keep the property in accordance with state sanitary code for cleanliness and proper use to avoid property damages.
105 CMR 410.352
410.352: Occupant’s Installation and Maintenance Responsibilities
(A) The occupant shall install in accordance with accepted plumbing, heating, gas fitting, and electrical wiring standards, and shall maintain free from leaks, obstructions and other defects, all occupant owned and installed equipment such as, but not limited to, refrigerators, clothes washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, stoves, garbage grinders and electrical fixtures.
(B) Every occupant of a dwelling unit shall keep all toilets, wash basins, sinks, showers, bathtubs, stoves, refrigerators and dishwashers in a clean and sanitary condition and exercise reasonable care in the proper use and operation thereof.
4. Minimum Square Footage
This is a pretty cut and dry way to determine how many folks can live in the apartment. A basic rue of thumb is two people per bedroom plus one additional occupant. Again, this is not a hard fast rule, but a starting point for the conversation. What you really need to know is the living space square footage and bathrooms and kitchens do not count here.
The sanitary code will actually assist a landlord in avoiding having that occupant move too many people into any given apartment. For example. Last year we took over the management of a beautiful 12-unit property. The mix was 6 1 BR units and 6 2 BR units. In doing the initial inspection, we were able to determine that one of the families had moved the family of one of their adult children into a 1 BR apartment. The result was now 6 people living in a 1 BR apartment. This was an obvious lease violation we were able to identify and correct much to the satisfaction of the landlord and other residents at the building who were complaining about the lack of parking, and additional noise coming from a 1 BR unit.
Minimum Square Footage
105 CMR 410.400(A & B)
1/26/07 105 CMR – 1625 410.400: Minimum Square Footage
(A) Every dwelling unit shall contain at least 150 square feet of floor space for its first occupant, and at least 100 square feet of floor space for each additional occupant, the floor space to be calculated on the basis of total habitable room area.
(B) In a dwelling unit, every room occupied for sleeping purposes by one occupant shall contain at least 70 square feet of floor space; every room occupied for sleeping purposes by more than one occupant shall contain at least 50 square feet of floor space for each occupant.
(C) In a rooming unit, every room occupied for sleeping purposes by one occupant shall contain at least 80 square feet of floor space; every room occupied for sleeping purposes by more than one occupant shall contain at least 60 square feet for each occupant.
Another obvious and overlooked issue in the rental of your property are the conditions of the locks in the building. Take a few moments to become familiar with this code to make sure that you are in compliance with the code.
A good idea at the beginning of the management of a property is to switch over to a master key program for a several unit dwelling. There are lock systems for sale at the blue and orange stores that will allow you to re-key locks in between residents. There is a master key system of about a half dozen keys that you can swap out on move out that you can reset the lock in a matter of minutes. This will cut down on your maintenance expense and save your a small fortune on swapping our locks on resident turnover.
105 CMR 410.480
The owner shall provide, install and maintain locks so that:
(A) Every dwelling unit shall be capable of being secured against unlawful entry.
(B) Every door of a dwelling unit shall be capable of being secured from unlawful entry.
(C) The main entry door of a dwelling containing more than three dwelling units shall be so designed or equipped so as to close and lock automatically with a lock, including a lock with an electrically-operated striker mechanism, a self-closing door and associated equipment. Every door of the main common entryway and every exterior door into said dwelling, other than the door of such main common entryway which is equipped as provided in the preceding sentence shall be equipped with an operating lock. (M.G.L. c. 143, § 3R.)
(D) Every entry door of a dwelling unit or rooming unit shall be capable of being secured from unlawful entry.
(E) Every open able exterior window shall be capable of being secured.
(F) Locking devices shall comply with the requirements of 780 CMR 1017.4.1 to avoid entrapment in the building.
6. Building Identification
This is a very easy code for compliance. I recommend the 4 to 6 inch reflector stickers that can be placed onto the dwelling that are highly visible from the street at night with a flashlight or as driving by the property. This is to help the municipalities like the first station and police quickly identify your property in case of an emergency.
While we are on topic, it is also a great idea to pick up and extra set of these reflector numbered stickers to place on the portable trash cans and recycling bins to that rental unit too. These trash cans have a mysterious way of vanishing from your property and an easy id sticker can help you, help them, find their way back home to you’re building.
105 CMR 410.484
410.484: Building Identification
The owner shall affix to every building covered by 105 CMR 410.000, a number representing the address of such building. The number shall be of a nature and size and shall be situated on the building so that, to the extent practicable, it is visible from the nearest street providing vehicular access to such building (M.G.L. c. 148, § 59).
7. Window Screens
This is another relatively easy fix but one that can cause major headaches if not addressed in a timely fashion. All windows need working screen in good repair. Although the sanitary code indicates a time frame from period between April 1st to October 30th, it is a good idea to have them in place year round.
This is especially important if you rent to residents on housing vouchers. Your inspection could happen anytime within the year. So even though you may not need the screen in the window at the time of the housing inspection, the inspector could fail the unit and with hold rents if the screens are missing.
There are screen repair kits at the blue and orange stores that range from $10 to $15 dollars to build and repair your own screens so there is really no good excuse not to have them in.
105 CMR 410.553
105 CMR 410.552
105 CMR 410.551
410.551: Screens for Windows
The owner shall provide screens for all windows designed to be opened on the first four floors opening directly to the outside from any dwelling unit or room unit provided, that in an owner-occupied unit, the owner need provide screens for only those windows used for ventilation. All new or replacement screens shall be of not less than 16 mesh per square inch.
(1) shall cover that part of the window that is designed to be opened but in no case less than the area as required in 105 CMR 410.280(A); and
(2) shall be tight fitting as to prevent the entrance of insects and rodents around the perimeter.
(3) Expandable temporary screens shall not be deemed to satisfy the requirements of 105 CMR 410.551(1) or (2).
410.552: Screens for Doors
The owner shall provide a screen door for all doorways opening directly to the outside from any dwelling unit or rooming unit where the screen door will be permitted to slide to the side or open in an outward direction, provided, that in an owner-occupied unit, the owner need provide screens only for those doorways used for ventilation. All new or replacement screens in screen doors shall be of not less that 16 mesh per square inch.
Said screen door:
(1) shall be equipped with a self-closing device except where the screen is designed to slide to the side; and
(2) shall be tight-fitting as to prevent the entrance of insects and rodents around the perimeter; and
410.553: Installation of Screens
The owner shall provide and install screens as required in 105 CMR 410.551 and 410.552 so that they shall be in place during the period between April 1st to October 30th, both inclusive, in each year.
We try not to interfere with how our residents keep their apartments, but the piling up of trash and garbage in the areas of the building the resident is in control of is the resident’s responsibility to keep clean and sanitary at all times while they live in the building.
A resident cannot keep trash in their apartment if it causes filth or sickness and must be discarded using the barrels and recycling cans provided by the landlord. A resident can get cute and put the trash in the common areas where it becomes the landlords responsibility to remove it. But if there are identifying clues like discarded mail or letters in the trash that can link it back to the resident, then the landlord can cite and penalize that resident in accord with the written rental agreement. I explain to the resident when they move in; “You do not want to walk out of your apartment into someone els’e trash and neither do the other residents of the building want to do the same”.
105 CMR 410.602 (B & C)
410.602: Maintenance of Areas Free from Garbage and Rubbish
(A) Land. The owner of any parcel of land, vacant or otherwise, shall be responsible for maintaining such parcel of land in a clean and sanitary condition and free from garbage, rubbish or other refuse. The owner of such parcel of land shall correct any condition caused by or on such parcel or its appurtenance which affects the health or safety, and well-being of the occupants of any dwelling or of the general public.
(B) Dwelling Units. The occupant of any dwelling unit shall be responsible for maintaining in a clean and sanitary condition and free of garbage, rubbish, other filth or causes of sickness that part of the dwelling which he exclusively occupies or controls.
(C) Dwellings Containing Less than Three Dwelling Units. In a dwelling that contains less than three dwelling units, the occupant shall be responsible for maintaining in a clean and sanitary condition, free of garbage, rubbish, other filth or causes of sickness the stairs or stairways leading to his dwelling unit and the landing adjacent to his dwelling unit if the stairs, stairways or landing are not used by another occupant.
(D) Common Areas. In any dwelling, the owner shall be responsible for maintaining in a clean and sanitary condition free of garbage, rubbish, other filth or causes of sickness that part of the dwelling which is used in common by the occupants and which is not occupied or controlled by one occupant exclusively.
The owner of any dwelling abutting a private passageway or right-of-way owned or used in common with other dwellings or which the owner or occupants under his control have the right to use or are in fact using shall be responsible for maintaining in a clean and sanitary condition free of garbage, rubbish, other filth or causes of sickness that part of the passageway or right-of-way which abuts his property and which he or the occupants under his control have the right to use, or are in fact using, or which he owns.
Be Proactive and Prepared
Here is a brief but critical list of some of the clauses from the state sanitary code that can heighten the tensions of the landlord resident relationship during the rental agreement. It is always best to have a policy in writing on how to address these situations before they become issues with the resident. A little communication and documentation up front goes a long way to ensure the peaceful quiet enjoyment of the premises for all of your residents.
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Belaire Property Management
Regional Property Manager
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