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Tenant rights explained

Library program untangles complex issue

August 29, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — A good rule of thumb if you're a renter is get everything you expect from your landlord in writing. And vice versa.

But the reality of tenant/landlord law is often more complex than that, according to attorney Leticia Richman of the Legal Assistance Corp. of Central Mass. She summarized several aspects of that law — including kinds of tenancy, security deposits and fees, required notices, discrimination, lead removal and the new foreclosure eviction law — at the Jacob Edwards Library Thursday.

"People don't know what kinds of fees are legal, so people often pay for credit checks and other things that aren't legal," she noted as an example afterward. As another, she noted many tenants aren't aware that the law requires landlords to put their security deposits in a bank account and pay interest on it annually, that landlords can't decline a tenant because they're on Section 8, and that landlords can't refuse to rent an apartment to a family with children because of lead paint.

She acknowledged that some landlords have legitimate financial concerns about remedying such paint, but said there are grants and loans available to help with that work.

"Nobody is obligated to enter the rental market as a business," Richman said. "If you do so, there is a cost to doing so. … [Not having the money] may mean they're just not equipped to be in this business."

To Health Director James Morin, however, the issues are more complex than that. He said he has "seen some tenants get bad legal advice" on how to deal with tenancy problems.

In this economy, Morin said he has often seen apartments where "the head counts are off." By that, he means it may be a three-bedroom and the landlord expects three or four people, but an inspection for other reasons finds "eight people and a couple of pets."

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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