News, Events & Publications

All Tenants Have a Right to Be Free from Harassment and Intimidation

April 20, 2018 – Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory last week reminding all Commonwealth residents that tenants have the basic civil right to not be harassed or intimidated by landlords, realtors, or any other housing provider.

 

This was in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the landmark bill passed 4 days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This was the first major piece of federal legislation explicitly banning discrimination in housing, and has since expanded to include:

Race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ancestry, genetic information, marital status, veteran or active military status, age, familial status (i.e., children), and source of income (i.e., Section 8 voucher).

 

AG Healey issued this advisory in part to also reinforce the fact that discriminating or adding extra hoops to jump through based on someone’s citizenship or immigration status is forbidden under the ban on discrimination based on national origin since “Such discrimination includes different treatment based on a person’s ancestry, ethnicity, birthplace, culture, or language. Screening current or prospective tenants for citizenship and immigration status, or treating them differently on that basis, may violate the prohibition on national origin discrimination.”

 

Such prohibited behavior includes:

  • Refusing to show a property or rent to someone based on their affiliation with a protected class,
  • Steering prospective tenants towards or away from particular areas or units,
  • Asking current or prospective tenants to provide different forms or amounts of identification/documentation, especially ones that relate to protected class membership,
  • Restricting access to services or applying different (especially more restrictive terms) to a member of a protected class,
  • And more.

 

Furthermore, the AG’s Office underscored that harassment or intimidation in housing is strictly forbidden.  These are defined as unwelcome conduct which interferes with a person’s ability to buy, rent, or enjoy housing and related services.  “Quid pro quo” harassment (where submission to a demand/request is needed to get what you want) is also forbidden.  Such examples include requesting sexual favors, threatening to call immigration authorities, coercing you to give up legal rights during eviction proceedings, threatening you if you report discriminatory practices, and retaliating against you for exercising any rights.

 

If you feel that a landlord, relator, mortgage broker, or other housing provider has done anything resembling the illegal actions described above, contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to file a formal Civil Rights Complaint at 617-963-2917.

 

If you’re looking to hold the housing provider directly accountable, reach out to the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625, or fill out our online form here.  We have a large network of experienced attorneys who want to protect your right to live in and enjoy the Greater Boston area.

No Yankees Fans in the Office?

April 13, 2018 – Believe it or not, your boss can fire you for virtually any reason at all, or for no reason at all, if you are an employee-at-will. There’s a common misconception out there that your boss is legally required to give you warnings or notice, but that just isn’t the case.  Your supervisor could decide that they don’t like the color of your shoes and send you packing.  Or they could let you go because you’re a Yankees fan, even if you’ve been the hardest working employee for 30+ years.

The major exception to employment at will is that you can’t be fired for an illegal reason.  Namely this includes for a discriminatory reason (based on race, gender identity/expression, religion, criminal record, age, and more), a retaliatory reason (because you spoke out against an illegal practice or filed a complaint), were doing your civic duty (jury duty), and a few more.

But outside of those your supervisor can just change their mind out of nowhere and decide that they don’t want you there anymore.  Although a mean thing to do, and certainly not a good one for company morale, unless it can be shown that it was due to an illegal reason, your employer has the legal right to let you go.

Employment at will is extremely widespread across the country.  Generally unless you’re in a union or you signed a contract with an end date on it when you were hired, your employment is considered at will.

It works both ways however: as an employee you can just quit without warning or reason.  Now, giving at least 2 weeks is common courtesy and makes you more likely to get a good recommendation moving forward, but it isn’t against the law to just call it quits.

If you feel that you were fired for a discriminatory reason, or are experience adverse treatment at work because of who you are, you can look into filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination (MCAD).

Furthermore, if you want to take your employer to court to hold them accountable or you just have some preliminary questions, call the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or contact us here.  We’re eager to connect you with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney today!

New Massachusetts Requirements to Driver’s Licenses and ID Cards: REAL ID

April 9, 2018 – Starting on March 26, 2018, Massachusetts will require documentation showing U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in order to obtain a Driver’s License or REAL ID. For U.S. citizens this requires a valid, unexpired U.S. Passport or a certified copy of your U.S. Birth Certificate. For permanent residents, a valid green card/resident card is required. And for those who are not citizens or permanent residents, verifiable immigration documents as well as proof that you have been granted legal stay in the U.S. for at least 12 months is required.

READ ID is a Federal Security Standard for IDs that was created in 2005 as a result of the heightened security after 9/11. It is not required to have a READ ID until October 2020, and if you have a valid U.S. passport you will never need a REAL ID.

Starting in October 2020 you will need a REAL ID or a valid U.S. passport in order to fly in the U.S. and to enter certain federal buildings. A regular Massachusetts license will not be sufficient to do these things after October 2020.

If you are unsure if you will need a REAL ID, the Massachusetts Government website has a helpful guide here for your use.

In order to obtain any license in Massachusetts, including REAL ID, you will need 3 different types of documents:

  1. Social Security Document – SSN card, W-2 form, SSA-1099 Form, Non-SSA-1099 Form, or Pay Stub with applicant’s name and SSN
  2. Lawful Presence/Date of Birth Document – U.S. Passport/Passport Card, Certified copy of U.S. Passport, Certificate of Citizenship, Certificate of Naturalization, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, Permanent Resident Card, Employment Authorization Card, Foreign Passport with the U.S. Visa affixed and I-94 Stamp
  3. Massachusetts Residency Document – MA RMV issued documents such as a renewal letter, 1st Class Mail, MA-issued professional license with photo, Medicaid Statement, Firearms Card, Jury Duty summons, Court Correspondence, Bills such as utility bills, Leases/Mortgages/Rental Contracts dated within 60 days, School-issued documents such as school transcripts.

For more information on the new requirements involved with REAL ID and normal licenses please click here, o aquí para Español.

You can begin the process of obtaining a REAL ID in Mass here in order to make sure that your future travel plans aren’t negatively affected.

Put the axe to tax scams

March 30, 2018 – The IRS has issued an alert to both tax professionals and consumers about increasingly frequent tax scams.  Among other things, scammers are sending phishing emails to tax preparers which contain suspicious links that, once opened, release viruses on the preparer’s computer and allow scammers to steal personal information of consumers including:

  • Names,
  • Addresses,
  • Social Security Numbers,
  • Bank Account Information,
  • And other personally identifying information

Basically unless you specifically signed up for emails from a company, don’t click on any links or open any attachments sent to you – just mark them as spam and delete.  Otherwise you’ll infect your computer with viruses, many of which you can’t even detect.

Remember, the IRS will ALWAYS send a regular letter through the mail before they reach out any other way.  They don’t send harassing emails or make phone calls threatening immediate arrest or deportation.

Scammers have been using this stolen information to file fake tax returns under unsuspecting consumer’s names. Then, the scammers pose as debt collectors to collect the money that was deposited into a consumer’s bank account from the fake tax return. The scammers tell consumers that the money was mistakenly transferred into their accounts and request a refund from the consumers, thus allowing them to steal the money.

The IRS has provided steps for consumers to follow in order to find a trustworthy tax preparer this season. Those steps include:

Consumers are also able to visit this website to verify that a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) holds a valid license with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

If you have any additional questions please contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling them at 617-973-8787, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm or visit their website here.

If you’re looking for any other kind of help with your local, state, or federal taxes as the April 17th filing deadline approaches, call the Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or fill out our online form to be connected with an experienced and skilled local tax attorney in just minutes.

Pregnancy Law Update

March 22, 2018 – On April 1st of this year the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will go into effect across the Commonwealth.  This new law supplements existing federal and state legislation which prohibits workplace discrimination against pregnant employees or those dealing with the effects of pregnancy and/or childbirth.

Although pregnancy is not formally classified as a disability, pregnancy and recent childbirth are still given the same treatment as other disabilities by preventing companies from discriminating against pregnant applicants or employees, as well as granting them the same reasonable accommodations which might be given to someone with another disability.  Such examples of accommodations include:

  • More frequent or longer breaks,
  • Time off,
  • Providing equipment or seating,
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous job,
  • Job restructuring,
  • Light duty,
  • Private space for expressing breast milk,
  • Assistance with manual labor,
  • And more.

Once you notify your employer of your pregnancy, you should begin what’s called a timely, good faith, “interactive process” dialogue between the two of you to figure out what accommodations should be made and how they’ll be executed.  There’s no formal way to do this, as it can be verbal or written, but documenting everything can never hurt.

Depending on what kinds of accommodations you request, your employer can ask for a doctor’s note.  But they can’t seek documentation for any of the following: More frequent restroom, food, or water breaks; Seating; Limits on lifting more than 20 pounds; or A private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk (which you are entitled to).

This law is certainly a big step forward in the fight against discrimination in the Commonwealth.

If you do feel that you have been discriminated against, however, you can contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination at 617-944-6000 to lodge a complaint with the government.

But if you want to pursue private legal action against a discriminatory employer, call the Boston Bar Association at 617-742-0625 or fill out our online form here.  We have a large network of experienced employment discrimination attorneys eager to fight for you and hold employers accountable.

A Fixer-Upper, but on whose dime?

March 19, 2018 – There’s a stain on your ceiling that’s growing by the day, the stove is making a funny sound, and there’s mice crawling around everywhere but your landlord just won’t do anything about it!  What are your options?  Where can you turn?

Every tenant in Massachusetts has protections on their rented properties which guarantee you a minimum standard of living.  These include:

  1. The State Sanitary Code,
  2. Local Health Ordinances,
  3. The Implied Warranty of Habitability, which means that landlords are required to keep properties livable, even when not specifically written into a lease, and
  4. The Law of Quiet Enjoyment, which is every person’s right to live peacefully in their space, free from most major nuisances.

Now, normal wear-and-tear is to be expected, and your apartment probably isn’t going to be spotless.  Legal questions won’t arise until there’s uncertainty about the safety and decency of the space, such as leaky pipes, faulty smoke detectors, or questionable mold, amongst other things.  If you notice persistent or serious issues, you should always immediately notify your landlord in writing, with the date on the page so that you can begin documenting the issues and keep a paper trail.  Try and take pictures too if you can.  If it’s so bad that you contact your local Inspectional Services, keep copies of their report.

It is actually legal to withhold rent if your landlord hasn’t made any effort to make repairs after you notify them.  However, since non-payment of rent can be grounds for eviction you should tread lightly, and try and consult an attorney to make sure that you’ve crossed your Ts and dotted your Is so that you don’t find yourself getting kicked out.

MassLegalHelp produced this handy guide for addressing necessary repairs to help out renters and provide some general advice.

If you’re looking for an attorney’s help with holding your landlord accountable for repairs to your apartment, or if you need to be defended if your landlord tries to sue you for exercising your rights, call the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or fill out our online form here.  Our attorneys are knowledgeable, helpful, and passionate about making your homes more comfortable.

Well it’s the LEASEt you could do…

March 5, 2018 – In the coming weeks and months across Boston approximately 165,000 apartment leases are being explored and signed by prospective tenants.  If you might be one of them, you’ll want to know your options, rights, and potential avenues to fight against unlawful practices.

Firstly you should know that you don’t always have to sign a lease.  There’s such thing as “Tenancy-At-Will” which is a more informal written or verbal agreement.  Unlike an actual lease, which designates a specific period of time for you to live in and pay for the unit (usually one year), either the landlord or the tenant can terminate an at-will agreement and leave at any time, provided that a 30 day written notice is given.  This is sometimes referred to as a month-to-month living situation.  With at-will agreements your landlord can increase your rent at any time, provided they give you 30 days’ notice.

While signing a lease offers more security, tenancy-at-will offers more flexibility, so consider all of your options before agreeing to anything.  And regardless of which you go with you should insist on getting everything you can in writing so that you can keep a record of anything that could be useful, just in case issues arise later.

You should also take a tour of the apartment so you know exactly what condition it’s in.  MassLegalHelp made this great checklist of things to look out for.  Make sure you document any existing damages before you move in so that your landlord doesn’t try and charge you for anything that isn’t your fault.  You can also call 617-635-5300 to request that Boston Inspectional Services takes a look if you have concerns.

If you do decide to move forward with a rental and it comes time to make payments you should know that the landlord can ONLY charge you for the following before you move in:

  • First month’s rent,
  • Last month’s rent,
  • A Security Deposit of no more than 1 month’s rent, and
  • The cost of purchasing and installing new locks.

Any other charges, save for a pre-agreed upon “finder’s fee” to a state licensed broker, are illegal.

Luckily, Massachusetts and Boston have a wide variety of resources to help out tenants, including this comprehensive rights booklet.  You can also hire a private attorney to review a lease agreement by contacting the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral service by filling out this form or calling 617-742-0625 to be connected with an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer within minutes.  We have a vast network of attorneys across the Greater Boston area eager to answer your questions and protect your rights.

Get the wages you’ve earned!

February 23, 2018 – This Monday, February 26th the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is running a free wage theft clinic to help out workers who feel they’ve been cheated in some way. Lawyers, community advocates, and law students alike will be available to answer questions you may have about your rights as an employee.  They can even help you draft a demand letter and file a small claims complaint.

Interpreter services are available if you call ahead to (617) 963-2327, and they’re willing to help out anyone who comes, regardless of immigration status.  You can read the announcement in English, Español, Português, 汉语/漢語, Tiếng Việt, af Soomaali, and العَرَبِيَّة.

When you go, try and bring along any potentially relevant documents including pay stubs, time sheets, and any correspondence with your employer – basically anything that could be helpful.

The Upcoming Clinics are:

Boston:

Suffolk Law School, First Floor Function Room

120 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108 (near the Park Street MBTA Station)

Monday, February 26, 2018, 4–6 p.m

Monday, March 19, 2018, 4–6 p.m

Monday, April 30, 2018, 4–6 p.m

 

Springfield:

The Bishop Marshal Center

254 State Street, Springfield Ma 01103

Monday, April 23, 2018, 4-6 p.m

 

If you want to talk to an attorney about issues with your employer you can also call the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625 or fill out the online form here to be connected with an experienced and knowledgeable Boston-area private lawyer today!

Get your tax affaIRS in order

February 16, 2018 – You have just about 2 months to file your Massachusetts and Federal taxes for 2017!  They’re due by Tuesday, April 17 (don’t forget)!  It’s important to start collecting necessary forms now so that you aren’t scrambling as the deadline fast approaches.

As you start this process, be sure to stay on the lookout for scams.  A lot of scammers try to capitalize on the confusion and stress surrounding tax season in order to steal your identity and money.  As referenced in our News posting from February 2nd, the IRS doesn’t send harassing or threatening emails, or call you before they’ve already mailed a bill.  Many taxpayers have also fallen victim to email scams containing links to seemingly legitimate websites that ask for personally identifying information.  Oftentimes these emails contain links or files which, when opened, will put viruses on your computer and steal your information.  Trust your gut if you get one of these emails.  You can always call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to inquire into the legitimacy of a communication.

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has also issued an advisory on instances of identity theft in the Commonwealth, and what to do about it.  Both the Commonwealth and federal governments have reporting services, but you can also choose to speak with a private attorney to explore your options if you think that your identity was stolen or you’ve been the target of fraud.

The government also understands that preparing and submitting your taxes can be very difficult and frustrating.  That’s why they published lists of:

Here’s a checklist of what you should bring with you to these programs

If, despite seeking help from tax specialists, you still find yourself in trouble with the IRS or Massachusetts Department of Revenue, or if you just have some questions, call the Boston Bar Association at 617-742-0625 or fill out our online form here to get connected to a licensed, knowledgeable, and experienced tax attorney today!  Our service is free to use and we can make most referrals in just a few minutes.  Don’t wait until April 17th – call now!

Attorney General Healey’s Guide for Families Affected by Federal Immigration Actions

February 9, 2018 – Massachusetts’s Attorney General Maura Healey released an Emergency Planning Guide for Parents with Uncertain Immigration Status yesterday to help parents figure out what to do with their children if they were to be detained or deported by Federal Immigration Authorities, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The Guide is also available in Español, Português, and Kreyòl Ayisyen.

It provides information on how to appoint care givers and guardians, gives a table summarizing various care and custody options, explains how access to public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, and provides other resources to consult.

This guide follows several advisories from Attorney General Healey’s office regarding the obligations of schools, colleges, and other educational institutions, as well as hospitals and healthcare providers in this time of great uncertainty.

Given the constantly changing landscape and misinformation out there about immigration policies and actions, it is understandable that many people are stressed and unsure of where to turn.  If you wish to speak with an immigration or family attorney to make plans, or even just to ask questions, contact the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 617-742-0625, or fill out our online form hereo aquí para español100% of your information is kept private and confidential.  The Boston Bar Association is not run by the government, and we are happy to help you find a qualified and experienced attorney in as little as 5 minutes.