Frequently asked questions about the Abandoned Housing Initiative

Find answers to commonly asked questions about the Attorney General's Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI)

How big is the program?

We have received over 2,200 property referrals in over 140 cities and towns across Massachusetts.

What properties are eligible?

Eligible properties include abandoned residential properties with violations of the State Sanitary Code – 105 CMR 410. Communities refer relevant properties to AHI; however, eligibility for receivership action will be determined by AHI based on feasibility.

Does there need to be a certain number of violation notices before a property is eligible?

No. While an abundance of code violations can lead to a stronger case, we can pursue receivership action so long as it is the most appropriate avenue to remediate existing code violations.

Does it make a difference whether a bank or a private party is the record owner of a property?

From our perspective, it does not make a difference. We have completed full receivership actions on both bank owned and privately owned properties.

Can we pursue a receivership with an occupied property?

It depends. As a policy matter, our office does not pursue occupied properties. However, on a case-by-case basis, we can pursue receivership actions on occupied properties. In the past we have completed receivership actions on multi-family properties with at least one vacant unit in which the receiver moved tenants between units as it completed the repairs.

What is our first step as a community?

After scheduling an introductory meeting with AHI, communities can refer up to 10 initial properties for inspection with their assigned Assistant Attorney General. If a community has more than 10 properties, they should refer their highest priority properties first. Properties can be dispersed throughout the community or they can be concentrated in specific blocks or neighborhoods. In communities that experience higher levels of property blight, we have found that concentrating efforts in a specific block or neighborhood can have the greatest impact.

How many cases end up in receivership?

Surprisingly few, and that’s a good thing! A major asset of our program is the strength of our demand letter. Our internal statistics show that a significant majority of issues are resolved short of litigation due to productive responses to our demand letter.

If a property does end up in receivership, how long does it usually take until the process is complete?

It depends. There are numerous factors that can affect the length of the process. Receiverships generally last anywhere from 6 to 18 months.

Who can be appointed as a receiver?

Anyone with the means and experience to rehabilitate residential properties. Through our program we have had not-for-profits, for-profits, community groups, construction companies of all sizes, and attorneys appointed as receivers. Local groups often make the best candidates as they have a more personal stake in the community. We will conduct background checks and interview all interested receivers to ensure that we are comfortable petitioning the Court for their appointment.

Do you have a list of approved receivers?

We do not keep a list of approved receivers. Where appropriate, we will match projects with a pool of interested receivers while heavily weighing the preferences of the city or town. In certain Housing Courts, we utilize the relevant Court-approved lists of receivers. The AGO is not involved in the receiver approval processes of the Housing Courts which maintain receiver lists. We may request introductory meetings with new receivers on Housing Court lists before petitioning the Court for their appointment.

How can we spark interest among potential new receivers in our community?

We have been able to gain new receivers by hosting receivership training seminars in the past. Our community partners have also had success through the placement of advertisements in local newspapers announcing their collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office.

What is the receiver required to do after being appointed?

We recommend that the receiver retain a lawyer at the outset of the appointment. Receivers are required by the court to file bi-monthly accountings of their completed work and their incurred expenses. Fortunately, legal fees can be incorporated into the total cost of the project.

What happens after the receiver completes work on the property?

The appointment of the receiver does not change the ownership of the property at any point during the rehabilitation process. Once the work has been completed, the receiver may petition the property owner for repayment. Generally, though not always, the owner declines and the receiver is given a lien on the property. The receiver’s lien takes priority over all other liens and encumbrances apart from municipal liens. The receiver can then petition the court to foreclose on its lien and the property is then subject to a public auction or other court-approved method of sale.

What happens if the public auction doesn't bring back enough money to pay off the receiver's lien?

In most circumstances, a receiver will bid on the property up to the amount of their lien. If no other bid beats out the receiver, the receiver obtains clean title to the property and it can later sell the property.

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