Sunday, February 24, 2013

What to do about the obnoxious landlord?

Some landlords think that because they “own” the rental unit, they can make all sorts of demands on the tenant. They think that they can enter the apartment any time they want and not even knock. They think that they can monitor the tenant and constantly tell the tenant how to behave and act. A landlord who acts in this manner does not understand the nature of the landlord-tenant relationship.

A lease or a rental of residential property essentially makes the tenant the owner of the property during the tenancy. The landlord is no longer the owner of the property. The agreement between the landlord and tenant in which they agree that the tenant will rent the property gives the tenant exclusive possession of the real estate. This essentially means that the tenant is the owner. The ownership by the tenant is not as broad as other types of ownership of real estate. The nature of the landlord-tenant relationship is that both parties have duties to the other. The duties are established by law and by the contract between landlord and tenant. At a minimum, the tenant owes a duty to pay rent and the landlord owes a duty of quiet enjoyment to the tenant.

The covenant of quiet enjoyment in simple terms means that the landlord won't interfere with the tenant's quiet enjoyment of his property. The landlord can't enter the property any time he wants. The landlord can't enter without knocking. The landlord can't demand changes to the rental agreement after the tenant takes possession. While the landlord may be able to establish rules for the tenant to follow before the rental agreement is established, he can't create rules after the tenant takes possession.

What is a tenant to do if the landlord violates the covenant of quiet enjoyment in Massachusetts? A tenant can go to the local court and seek a restraining order against the landlord to compel him to stop violating the covenant of quiet enjoyment. While the tenant should expect to pay a filing fee and pay to serve the court documents on the landlord, if the tenant is desperate, it should be worthwhile to seek court assistance. The tenant may also consult with an experienced real estate attorney before seeking court involvement.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is a divorce from a foreign country valid?

In almost all cases, a divorce in a foreign country is not recognized in Massachusetts and probably the same in all other states. Each state is a separate government. As a general rule, each government is free to ignore the legal rulings of other governments.  This doesn't apply o divorce decrees of other states.  Each American State is subject to the US Constitution which contains a clause called the “full faith and credit clause.” This clause is contained in Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution and requires every state to give full faith and credit to the judicial proceedings of other states. This means that a divorce granted in one state must be recognized in another state. However, the full faith and credit clause doesn't apply to foreign countries.

There are individuals who advertise inexpensive quick divorces in foreign countries. Take a trip to this foreign country and get a divorce without any waiting periods. In some of these ads, the spouse doesn't even need to be notified. The people who advertise these are essentially travel agents. In many states, including Massachusetts, it is illegal for someone to advertise divorces of this nature. These divorces won't be recognized in Massachusetts. Even if both spouses participate in a foreign divorce, it is unlikely that a Massachusetts Court will recognize the divorce as valid. In other words, the parties are still married to each other even though a court in a foreign country has ruled that they are divorced.

There are some exceptions where a Massachusetts court may find a foreign divorce valid. Where a citizen of another country gets divorced in the country where they are a citizen, if the proceedings meet a sufficient level of due process and notice, then a Massachusetts court is likely to recognize the divorce as valid. This is based on concepts of justice, due process, and fairness. However, without a jurisdictional basis such as foreign citizenship, it is unlikely that a foreign divorce will be recognized.

As a general rule, this is a complicated area of law. It is best if people consult an experienced divorce attorney before they spend the money for a trip to another country to obtain a divorce.