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No, a landlord cannot charge tenants an additional fee for having a pet. Massachusetts General Laws 186 § 15B  states that a landlord is only permitted to collect: 

(i) rent for the first full month of occupancy; and, 
(ii) rent for the last full month of occupancy calculated at the same rate as the first month; and, 
(iii) a security deposit equal to the first month's rent provided that such security deposit is deposited as required by subsection (3) and that the tenant is given the statement of condition as required by subsection (2); and, 
(iv) the purchase and installation cost for a key and lock. 

We see and hear examples where the law is not followed by landlord and real estate licensee alike.  More commonly, we hear that many of the large, commercial apartment complexes and property management companies and landlords throughout the country charge additional fees such as an application fee, a move in fee or pet fee to tenants as a matter of ordinary business. “Company policy” for these entities must be followed, despite protests from tenants and real estate licensees.  In their defense, they state the Massachusetts law is silent as to these types of fees and that these additional fees help defray costs and sometimes add additional revenue for landlords. As discussed below, this practice is illegal in Massachusetts.

In an October 2014 ruling, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found in Perry v. Equity Residential Management, LLC, (“ERM”) that ERM violated MGL 186 § 15B when it collected from its tenants an application fee, amenity fee (which was subsequently changed to a move-in fee), community fee and initial pet fee. In the court’s decision, Federal District Judge Zobel commented “Giving the statute’s words their ordinary meaning “consonant with sound reason and common sense,” Harvard Crimson, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 840 N.E.2d 518, 522 (Mass. 2006), section 15B(1)(b) simply is not susceptible of more than one reasonable construction. The statute is a list. If a fee is on the list then it is a permissible up-front charge; if it is not on the list, then it is impermissible.”

The court found that while MGL 186 § 15B does not explicitly forbid application fees, move-in fees or pet fees, it does state that “no lessor may require a tenant or prospective tenant to pay any amount in excess of” the four permissible charges mentioned in the statute. Noting this restrictive language, and analyzing similar Massachusetts case law, Judge Zobel ruled that the collection of such fees violates both MGL 186 § 15B and Massachusetts’s Consumer Protection Act (MGL 93a), which could expose a landlord to triple damages plus attorney fees.

Additional fees, such as pet fees or deposits and smoker’s fees are not allowable even if a tenant agrees to the charge. If a landlord allows pets and the pets cause damage to the unit beyond reasonable wear and tear, the landlord may use the security deposit to make repairs so long as the landlord has complied with all applicable security deposit laws.  It should be noted that it is not unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent to a prospective tenant that has a pet unless that pet is a service or assistance animal needed for a disability in life.  

Even if a landlord has a “no pets” policy, they must make reasonable accommodation for a tenant with a disability in life who has the need for a service or assistance animal.  A landlord may require a tenant with a service or assistance animal to comply with certain rules, such as keeping an animal on a leash and cleaning up after it; however, a landlord cannot require that tenant to pay any additional fees associated with having the service or assistance animal in the leased premises. Generally, landlords must also permit owners of service and assistance animals to make modifications to the leased premises (such as a fenced-in yard) which may be borne at the sole expense of the tenant; who may be required by the landlord to return the property to its original condition at the termination of the lease.  Placing additional burdens on a tenant who needs a service or assistance animal due to a disability in life is contrary to both Massachusetts law and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

It is interesting to note that Massachusetts fair housing laws may protect persons with a disability in life that use “emotional support” animals which are not trained as service or assistance animals.  Additionally, trainers or owners of “service dogs in training” that will be placed into a new home for someone with a disability in life are afforded the same protections under Massachusetts law as is an owner of a service or assistance animal with a disability in life.  This is an evolving area of the law and consultation with a knowledgeable professional adviser or discussion with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is suggested before denying rental housing to anyone with an animal that they claim to be used for a disability in life or for medical or emotional reasons.

The decision of Perry v. Equity Residential Management, LLC case should be followed by all landlords, property managers and real estate licensees in Massachusetts. Landlords who continue to charge fees to tenants which are not explicitly allowed for under the law are exposing themselves to the risk of many thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in damages for each additional fee that they charge a prospective or current tenant.  

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact GBAR Legal Counsel William G Mullen, III at 617-399-7842 or via email at wmullen@gbreb.com.
Can a Landlord Charge Tenants a “Pet Fee”?
This year, GBAR is forming a new task force that aligns with the existing National Association of REALTORS® consumer awareness campaign and the “Get REALTOR®” message which promotes the association and difference between non-members and REALTOR® members. The campaign is designed to communicate the REALTOR® brand value to consumers, targeting up-and-coming generations of home buyers, sellers, owners and investors.

 As with the current NAR campaign, this task force will focus on developing a strategy for today’s consumers to understand that REALTORS® have committed their career to helping people find the home of their dreams. We are looking for members who are passionate about the REALTOR® brand and want to help us generate thoughts on our messaging, how we can expand our reach to more consumers and showcase the associations work for REALTOR® advocacy for public policy issues that promote the preservation of property rights and homeownership.

If you are interested in serving on this task force, please contact Kevin at kbutler@gbreb.com
 
Seeking Volunteers for Consumer Awareness Task Force
NAR has issued its Aspiring Home Buyer Profile which offers and in-depth look at the preferences of non-homeowners, defined as renters or those who live with family/friend and do not pay rent. The profile is a collection of monthly data that was collected throughout 2017 that compares topics like the perceptions of homeownership and housing affordability from the non-homeowners perspective.
The profile points out that, among affordability issues, non-homeowners’ lifestyle changes and improvement in their financial situation outweigh seeing their rent increase as the main motivators for deciding to buy a home. An infographic about the report indicates that amid these challenges, more than 8 out of 10 non-owners desire to be a homeowner as well as 8 in 10 reported that homeownership is part of their American Dream.

“A tug-of-war continues to take place in many markets throughout the country, where consistently solid job creation is fueling demand, but the lack of supply is creating affordability constraints that are ultimately pulling aspiring buyers further away from owning,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in a press release. “These extremely frustrating conditions continue to be most apparent at the lower end of the market, which is why the overall share of first-time buyers remains well below where it should be given the strength of the job market and economy.”

For the more details and the full report, click here.
Affordability Issues Keep Renters From Realizing American Dream
REAL Trends has announced they are now accepting applications for their annual REAL Trends 500 Survey which is a report that ranks the performance of the top residential real estate brokerage firms. The survey ranks companies based on a variety of factors including sales volume, affiliation, top movers, core services, the Billionaires’ Club and Up-and-Comers. To complete a survey of your brokerage, view these instructions on how to submit a survey and visit the REAL Trends 500 webpage. The survey closes on March 1, 2018.

Additionally, REAL Trends is accepting applications for it’s The Thousand, which is a ranking of real estate agents across the U.S., based on transaction sides, individuals by sales volumes, teams by transaction sides and teams by sales volume. Click here to enter a submission, before the June 29th deadline.
REAL Trends Accepting Submissions 500 Survey & The Thousand
We’re back for our fourth installment of our popular RealTour event. These free member meetings take place in each of the five regions in the GBAR jurisdiction and offer you the opportunity to learn about some of the most timely issues and trends in the real estate industry, as well as offer feedback and insight regarding the association to the GBAR staff and leadership. 

During these RealTours, we’re pleased to have Craig Foley, LEED Green Associate and Chief of Energy Solutions at RE/MAX Leading Edge, on hand to inform our members about best practices for listing energy-efficient, high-performance homes, and strategies for how to implement a sustainability program at your brokerage. Our program will also feature Lynne Bagby, a division manager at Asset Preservation, Inc., who will lead a discussion regarding implications that revisions to the federal tax reform code will have on residential real estate.  

This is important information for you and your clients that you don't want to miss! All sessions are free of charge, include a continental breakfast and run from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. 

Check out our dates and locations below and register for the RealTour nearest you!
Monday, February 26 – Randolph 
Tuesday, February 27 – Natick
Wednesday, February 28 – North Reading
Monday, March 5 -- Bedford
Tuesday, March 6 -- Waltham
RealTour Sessions Focus on Tax Reform & High Performance Homes
Sales of detached single-family homes and condominiums softened in December amid appreciating home prices and rising inventory, according to data released today by the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® (GBAR).

The 1,027 single-family detached homes sold in December 2017 was a 9.7 percent decrease in sales from the 1,137 homes sold in December 2016. This total was the seventh-highest on record for the month of December, and is above the monthly sales average since 2003 of 984 homes sold. The condo market also experienced a decrease in sales as 793 units were sold in December 2017, which reflects of a 14.3 percent drop in sales from the 925 units sold in December 2016, which is also the record high for December. This was the eighth most active December on record for condo sales and sits above the historical monthly average of 772 units sold. 

“Despite these drops in overall sales, activity has remained strong and we’re seeing an eager buyer population, ready to enter the market ahead of projected increases in mortgage rates and home values in the coming year,” said 2018 GBAR President Marie Presti, broker-owner of The Presti Group in Newton. “We’re seeing the inventory levels bounce back which is a good sign for those looking to purchase a home.”

Indeed, the active listings for both single family homes and condos experienced year-over-year increases in December. Single family listings saw a 17.5 percent increase from 1,967 homes for sale in December 2016 to 2,311 homes for sale at the end of last year. This is the second consecutive month this figure has risen on a year-over-year basis. Likewise, the condo market had a 7.3 percent increase to 1,441 active listings, up from 1,343 in December 2016, and is the fourth consecutive month this number has risen or remained the same on a year-over-year basis.

The median sales price for single-family homes reached a new record high price for the month of December at $589,000, which is an 8.1 percent increase on the median sales price of $545,000 from December 2016. Similarly, the condo market also reached a new record high median sales price for the month at $542,000, which is a 15.8 percent increase from the December 2016 median sales price of $468,000.

“Even with rising inventory, potential sellers should remain confident in listing their homes, as home prices continue to appreciate,” added Presti. “Again, in December, we saw that homes are selling the market quicker than in years past, indicating just how strong the buyer demand has been.”

In fact, single family homes were coming off market after 57 days in December, an 18.6 percent drop from the 70 days on market figure from December 2016. In the condo market, this figure remained flat at 46 days to off market. For additional information regarding December 2017 Greater Boston Housing statistics, including our new interactive housing market data dashboard, visit the Monthly Housing Market Reports page






Greater Boston Home Sales Soften in December Despite Rising Supply of Homes
 

Education & Events

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REALTOUR - Southern Norfolk Region (Randolph, MA)
Feb 26, 2018
Lantana
43 Scanlon Dr
Randolph, MA
REALTOUR - Metro West Region (Natick, MA)
Feb 27, 2018
Crowne Plaza
1360 Worcester St.
Natick, MA
REALTOUR - Eastern Middlesex Region (North Reading)
Feb 28, 2018
Hillview Country Club
149 North Street
North Reading, MA
REALTOUR - Central Middlesex Region (Bedford, MA)
Mar 05, 2018
Double Tree
44 Middlesex Turnpike
Bedford, MA
REALTOUR - Metro Boston Region (Waltham, MA)
Mar 06, 2018
Hilton Garden Inn Boston-Waltham
450 Totten Pond Rd,
Waltham, MA
GBAR New Member Orientation (Burlington, MA)
Mar 08, 2018
Hilton Garden Inn
5 Wheeler Road
Burlington, MA
MA Real Estate License Laws & Regulations (WEBINAR)
Mar 12, 2018
YPN Night
Mar 15, 2018
The Living Room
101 Atlantic Ave.
Boston, MA
Real Estate Safety Matters: Safe Business = Smart Business
Mar 21, 2018
Greater Boston Real Estate Board
One Center Plaza
Mezzanine Suite
Boston, MA
 

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REALTOUR - Southern Norfolk Region (Randolph, MA)
Lantana
9:30am
 
REALTOUR - Metro West Region (Natick, MA)
Crowne Plaza
9:30am
 
REALTOUR - Eastern Middlesex Region (North Reading)
Hillview Country Club
9:30am
 
REALTOUR - Central Middlesex Region (Bedford, MA)
Double Tree
9:30am
 
REALTOUR - Metro Boston Region (Waltham, MA)
Hilton Garden Inn Boston-Waltham
9:30am
 
GBAR New Member Orientation (Burlington, MA)
Hilton Garden Inn
9:00am