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Landlord Invests $80,000 Across Two Years to Evict Non-Paying Tenant

The two-year ordeal reveals the complexities between Massachusetts landlords and tenants amid robust legal protections.
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Pixabay
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Pixabay

In the world of real estate, tales of tenant-landlord disputes are not uncommon. However, Peter Avitabile's journey to regain control of his Rockland townhouse is one of a kind. His two-year-long struggle sheds light on the complex dynamics between property owners and occupants, particularly in jurisdictions like Massachusetts, where tenant protections are robust but sometimes contentious.

Representative image | Getty Images |  Photo by Brandon Bell
Representative image | Getty Images | Photo by Brandon Bell

Avitabile, 34, experienced the challenges of being a landlord from the start. While working as a facilities manager, he lived in a Rockland townhouse near Boston. When he and his future wife decided to buy a single-family home for their growing family, they planned to keep the townhouse as an investment, either renting it out or selling it later for a profit.

His ordeal began in November 2020, when he leased his property to Cassandra Schnider, a local hospital worker with seemingly decent references. Little did he know that this routine transaction would spiral into a legal battle, leaving him at a loss of tens of thousands of dollars.

Photo by Kindel Media:
Image Source: Photo by Kindel Media | Pexels

Trouble began brewing in late 2021, when Schnider started defaulting on rent payments, leaving the landlord in a precarious financial position. Despite repeated attempts to communicate with the tenant, his efforts were met with silence, prompting him to take the drastic step of pursuing eviction through housing court. However, navigating the legal system proved to be a huge task, with Schnider exploiting every available loophole to prolong her stay.

The federal eviction ban, meant to aid during COVID-19, inadvertently protected non-compliant tenants like Schnider. Moreover, legal battles, high fees, and emotional stress followed, with appeals and delays adding further financial strain. "We filed every single month with the court saying, 'Hey, by the way, she's been court-ordered to pay rent. She's refusing.' This isn't going anywhere," Avitabile said.

Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool
Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool

The case highlights a broader issue plaguing the rental landscape: the presence of so-called "professional tenants" who exploit legal protections to secure rent-free accommodation. While such individuals represent a minority, their actions cast a shadow over the landlord-tenant relationship, fostering mistrust and animosity on both sides.

Doug Quattrochi of MassLandlords explains that these individuals are adept at manipulating the system to their advantage, draining landlords' resources and patience in the process. "There are people who know how to make the system fail for a property owner," he said.

He suggests that landlords in the state suffer losses exceeding $3 million monthly due to unpaid rent, with some cases involving tenants deliberately withholding payments despite their capability to pay. He argues that if landlords and tenants fail to reach agreements independently, courts should intervene to assist landlords in reclaiming their properties. 

Women holding her new Rental home key (representative image)  | Pexels | Photo by Kindel Media
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Kindel Media

"Pro-tenant laws have made evictions increasingly difficult and prolonged. Tenants often employ delay tactics such as requesting jury trials, and filing discovery requests, motions, and appeals, creating significant legal expenses for landlords," said Jeffrey Turk, a lawyer with 30 years of experience representing landlords in Massachusetts housing court.

In Schnider's case, she represented herself in court, utilizing standard legal forms available online to file claims against her landlord. "That means costly litigation for landlords — and protracted legal battles can lead to foreclosures and bankruptcy. There’s a trickle-down effect when landlords don’t get paid," Turk added.

House For Rent (representative image)  | Unsplash | Photo by chris robert
Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Chris Robert

Luckily, the tenant faced court-ordered eviction in February 2024 and left the property soon after. The whole experience, however, cost the couple nearly $80,000. Looking ahead, Avitabile remains cautiously optimistic about renting out his property once more, albeit with a newfound vigilance borne out of bitter experience.