A nationwide first in rental real estate is taking place: the Certified Massachusetts Landlord Test is being made available to members of MassLandlords.
In February we announced that our lookup service to find a Certified Massachusetts Landlord (cML) was live. The new test adds meat to the existing skeleton of this certification program. A passing score on the test will result in an award of cML Level Two, the second of our three-tiered professional designation.
No other real estate group in the nation, as far as we know, has an equivalent state-specific certification for rental operations.
Why Test Landlords?
This new test is important for three reasons.
First, housing is critical for wellbeing. It’s not merely an annoyance to rent from an unprepared landlord. “An unprepared landlord could injure or bankrupt you via missing smoke detectors, unmanaged vermin infestation, stolen security deposits, or unsustainable rent increases, to name several of many possible disasters.”
Second, there’s an enforcement asymmetry in rental housing. Landlords usually screen renters, tell renters whether they’re getting their deposit back and decide whether or how a repair gets made. But few renters ever screen landlords, sue for security deposit violations or validly withhold rent for conditions. A renter can, of course; in Massachusetts, we have many legal protections. But as a practical matter we largely rely on housing providers to do the right thing.
Third, rental housing is difficult to do well. What type of smoke detectors are required, and where? Can I deduct from the security deposit for this? How can I afford to make that repair? There’s a set of knowledge you should have before embarking in hands-on real estate investment.
Our test achieves these objectives. A landlord who takes and passes our test will contribute to renter wellbeing, be responsible when no one is looking and avoid problems – and receive recognition for their hard work.
What Does the Test Cover?
Our test is broken into four modules: Talk to Tenants, Maintain Buildings, Follow the Law and Be Part of the Community. We cover the complete spectrum of required knowledge, including advanced concepts like steering (a discrimination concept), HomeBASE (a rental assistance program) and conflict resolution (avoiding court).
Here’s a sample Community question: “Hoarding disorder is considered a mental illness, or disability. Therefore, in Massachusetts, laws surrounding hoarding can be found under ______ protections. Is the correct answer a.) lifestyle, b.) health and wellness, c.) environmental, or d.) discrimination?”
Any of these answers might apply. But a Certified Massachusetts Landlord will know that renters are protected from discrimination on the basis of disability. The correct answer is “d” discrimination. This question is relevant. A landlord may not have to put up with hoarding, but we cannot terminate a tenancy with “hoarding” specifically as the cause. Renters living with a hoarding disability are entitled to protection, help and treatment.
Here’s a sample Buildings question: “A letter of deleading compliance means that an apartment, including ______, has no lead hazards. Is the correct answer: a.) soil on the property, b.) water pipes, c.) applicable common areas, or d.) neighboring apartments?”
Here again, any of these might be right. But a Certified Massachusetts Landlord will know that in Massachusetts, we obtain compliance on a per-unit basis including the common areas. And weirdly, we don’t test dirt or water! So, the correct answer is “c” applicable common areas.
What Does It Mean to Pass?
We are using a framework called computer adaptive testing (CAT), which is different from a classical test. In a classical test, we run through a preset script of questions. A passing score is a percentage of correct answers. Classical testing would have a critical flaw in our case: If a passing score is say, 70 percent, and questions about lead paint constitute 30 percent of the exam, then it would be possible for a landlord to pass knowing nothing about lead paint. That will not do!
With CAT, we can save time and get a better result. A passing CAT score is a probabilistic assessment of an examinee’s skillset, based on knowing the difficulty of each question. Answer too many easy questions wrong and the test will say, “Let’s take a break.” We will advise you to read more. (You can retake immediately or later.) Answer a few hard questions right, and the test will infer you probably know the easy ones, too. We won’t waste your time by asking too many easy questions.
A Certified Massachusetts Landlord who passes our test will be 90 percent likely to correctly answer a mission-critical question. And, we will have 90 percent confidence in our assessment. These two probabilities stacked together mean the test will be hard. But landlording in Massachusetts is not easy. Don’t shoot the messenger, do read his pamphlet on lead paint.
The cML Level Two Test is available to MassLandlords members who meet the requirements of cML Level One: Commitment to Follow Best Practices. Exams are being granted individually through June as we shake out this new platform.
Doug Quattrochi is executive director of MassLandlords, Inc.