Evictions

Three tough evictions
When owners can’t evict druggies, then our laws encourage abusive and criminal behavior.

When owners can’t evict freeloaders and property damagers, then our laws destroy neighborhoods.

Tenants that know what they can get away with.

# 1Their tenant’s recent drug arrest could not be used to evict him. The owners had to live next door to him.

# 2This owner’ tenants shoved her into a door. Evicted six times before, they know how to live rent-free.

# 3Asked to move, their tenants stayed and litigated with free lawyers for two years. The judge called it “simple defiance.”


# 1 4 months to evict a drug dealer in their own home

      They were expecting a child. They weren’t expecting to inherit a drug addict as a tenant when this young couple moved into their newly purchased 3-family house in an upscale near-Boston suburb. But they did.
     
They were told the tenant on the top floor was a former nurse on disability who seldom left her apartment. Soon after they moved in, the tenant said: “Hi, . . . and this is Steve.”
     
It was her boyfriend. He looked yellow and ill. He had a drink in his hand, as he would have every time they saw him after that.
     
Six months later, Steve got into two auto accidents in a row. The second time, his 20-year-old Cadillac got totalled, and the police sent him to the hospital for a drug test. On the way to the hospital, he was arrested when the police found heroin packets in his car. The drug test came out positive for heroin.
     
“You just wouldn’t think this would happen here,” the wife said.
     
They found out Steve had court records back to the 1970s, “tons of motor vehicle violations” and 10 drug-related convictions including dealing, plus breaking-and-entering and assault-and-battery convictions just two years earlier.
     
Suddenly, something made sense. They had noticed a whole string of people “zinging in and out of Steve’s apartment, staying just five minutes.” Steve was dealing drugs from their building.
     
Terribly worried, this family wanted to evict him. But then they discovered a dismaying fact about the special law that supposedly gives owners speedy evictions for drug-involved tenants. They could only evict for drugs if they showed evidence of drug possession in the premises! His arrest was for possession in his car, and that did not meet the law’s requirement.
     
“You should be able to get an immediate eviction for a current arrest for drugs anywhere,” the husband said. “But you don’t.”
     
They were forced to take the slowest type of eviction: a no-cause eviction to regain possession.
     
“We were lucky to get them out in four months,” he said.
     
They contacted the landlord mediation service at Just-A-Start Corporation in Cambridge.
     
“They were great,” the couple agreed. “They were a buffer between us. We did not want to deal with them.”
     
The mediator moved quickly for an agreement with the tenants that avoided a trial and also kept the tenants away from legal services.
     
“We were worried,” the wife said, “that she would use legal services to play up her disability. We also worried how they could get another apartment.”
     
The deal that was cut still cost this couple a lot. The tenants would get one month free rent plus $200 off their rent each additional month if they agreed to move in four months.
     
Two months before the end, Steve asked: “How much will you give me to get out a month early?”
     
The mediator negotiated a $600 cash payment to the tenants. Total loss to these owners: $1,450.
     
Waiting had been frightening. The eviction had angered the tenants. Police had the house under surveillance. Steve threw cat litter down the hallway in retaliation. He often sat on the front steps whittling vigorously with an exacto knife. “We had to walk right by him. It was scary.”
     
“We were afraid our new child would be coming just as this addict was being evicted,” the wife said. “Our interests were at the bottom of the list of considerations.”
     
On moving day, Steve said: “I’m going to take the frig with me because I bought it. The other one broke. But I’ll sell it to you for $50.” The mediator’s advice: “Pay him.”
     
“I was afraid,” the husband said, “that if I didn’t pay, he’d throw my refrigerator down the back stairs. So I bought my own frig from a heroin addict for $50 for his next fix.”

# 2 “I’m afraid for my life. I’m afraid they’ll kill me.”

      “Please, please, don’t print my story. I am afraid for my life. I’ve told you too much. If my tenants ever found out, I don’t know what they would do.”
     
Those were the desperate words of a thickly accented woman who, less than a year ago, let new tenants move into the upstairs apartment in the two-family house where she herself lives, somewhere in Boston. They paid rent for about four months and then stopped.
     
She has lived in this country about 25 years. She bought a two-family house. She is unmarried. She cared for her brother and mother for 10 years, until they both died.
     
The lost rent is bad enough, and she may lose her house. But worse, they threaten and intimidate her. “They call me names,” she says. “They scream at me. They pushed me into a door so I got black and blue. They said they’d push me down the stairs.”
     
Her story was terrifying and tragic. We wanted to print it. We promised her it would be entirely anonymous. She still refused.
     
“They make damages to my house,” she says. “An inspector comes almost every week. He takes their side. They blackmail me every time. I can’t be in my own home.”
     
So we asked her lawyer if he might persuade her. He knew about SPOA, and he was happy to talk to her. She then agreed to let us print her story — as long as we kept everything anonymous.
     
“I’m never home,” she says. “I stay at my shop so I don’t run into them. For six months, my life is miserable. I’m afraid they’ll kill me.”
     
Her lawyer says the tenants are “verbally vicious” to her in court. He saw the bruise on her arm from being slammed into a door. “They chased friends of mine down stairs,” he said, “so I believe her.”
     
She originally rented out the upstairs apartment to “four wonderful people,” and then she got her present tenants: a sister and brother and their mother.
     
The sister is the real problem. “She doesn’t really work. But she claimed she got $50 an hour. That’s for being a ’psychic’ or fortune teller. They lied and said they were working. She told me she only wanted it for three months and then she was getting married. I said the place hasn’t been painted yet. They said they would take care of the painting. They wanted to move in right away. I felt sorry for the old mother. Mother’s Day came up, so I gave in. It was a terrible mistake.”
     
She has been to Housing Court six times since they stopped paying rent six months ago. (That’s not counting the times she has gone to criminal court.) At Housing Court, someone recognized the tenants’ names and tipped her off. She looked up the eviction records and found out the awful truth.
     
These tenants had been evicted five times before, all in a row over the past 15 years.
     
“I found one of those landlords. She shakes when I talk to her. She didn’t want to say anything. It took her eight years to evict them. She decided to bring her daughter from another state and have her move into the apartment. It still took two years after that to get them out.”
     
So now she knew she was up against “professional tenants.”
     
Her lawyer says the judge has ruled in her favor and against the tenants every time. That’s because he’s the same judge from the tenants’ previous eviction, which took two years to get an execution. “This time,” says the lawyer, “he’s not believing them.” They have a legal services lawyer.
     
Her case is now under advisement, and her lawyer expects to have an execution in 10 days. Still, it’s been six months going on seven to get rid of them. And no rent paid.
     
As her lawyer says: “Even losing is winning for a tenant.”

# 3 2 years to evict tenants with endless phoney claims

      When Charlie and Ann Schofield got married, they lived in a cold-water flat. They started poor. Now, after raising six children, they were about to retire.
     
Their grown son wanted to move into the two-bedroom Cambridge condo they owned. So they asked their tenant of three years — a woman who works as an administrator at Harvard University — to move at the end of the lease. The tenant’s brother — a practicing attorney in Cambridge — had recently moved in, however, and he refused to move.
     
“I like living here,” he said. “I don’t want to move. And I won’t!”
     
It took 23 months to evict him. The brother and sister claimed “indigence” and got a free legal services lawyer, Jeff Purcell from Greater Boston Legal Services, recipient of $583,749 from United Way. During these two years, the brother went to Africa for six weeks. The sister claimed she went back to school, but could afford to spend $500 at Lord and Taylor’s.
     
There was no substance to the tenants’ case. It was all about delays, delays, delays, which let them keep the apartment. The tenants refused to mediate. The Schofields were in court 14 times. Three times the trial was cancelled and rescheduled just because of the tenants’ lawyer: the lawyer got sick — the lawyer had vacation plans — the lawyer was getting married. The Schofields had to call witnesses back twice because of the cancellations. And before one cancellation, their son had flown in from Chicago; he had lived in the apartment just prior to the tenants and could testify on the apartment’s condition.
     
The Schofields won the first trial, but the tenants appealed. Another delay. And a big one, because the new trial would give the tenants the right to rehash every factual detail covered in the first trial, a costly, time-consuming right that applies only to eviction appeals.
     
Both judges ruled completely in favor of the Schofields. Before the tenants were ever asked to move, minor problems had been repaired rapidly, and the tenants “had enjoyed good relations with their landlord and had expressed nothing but satisfaction with their tenancy,” the second judge wrote. After being asked to move, “this cooperative relationship soured rapidly and dramatically.”
     
The brother had promptly called the local inspector to claim code violations. Ruled the judge: “I find that he did so for the specific purpose of creating a defense to eviction.” It was that unfair, infuriating trick allowed by Massachusetts law, and these tenants would keep on using it for two years.
     
The code violations were all minor, some possibly caused deliberately by the tenants themselves: roaches, electrical outlets needing repair, missing window screens, bathroom tile “needs some grout,” tenant articles stored in the fire egress, no “safety railings” in the back hallway. The inspector said none of the conditions “materially impaired the health, safety or well-being of the occupants,” and the judge agreed. The judge even pointed out that the missing railing was “so irrelevant” that the tenants hadn’t noticed it.
     
The code violations were repaired promptly, and the inspector signed off just one day before the lease terminated. When the tenants did not move out, eviction was started. Two weeks later, the tenants called in the inspector again, who reported just two items: cockroaches (again) and a back hall blocked by some other tenant’s stuff. By now, the condo association was exterminating the entire building every few months.
     
At the trial, the tenants brought in five medicine vials, claiming they contained cockroaches. The judge examined them: “One appears to be a moth or fly; the others are so small as to be barely visible.”
     
In nasty letters to the Schofields, the tenants complained and complained about the apartment they refused to leave. The judge gave no value to these complaints and pointed out their trumped-up nature.
     
“Overall,” said the judge, “I find that [the tenants] have had the benefits of an attractive, comfortable apartment in a highly desirable location, at a bargain price, and have simply refused to give it up, in defiance of the rights of its owners.”
     
Even with a judge’s execution in hand, the Schofields paid the tenants $4,000 to make sure they got out.
     
“You can’t imagine what this did to us,” Ann Schofield said. “It aged us. All the infuriating letters they wrote us. They tormented us. They just got up in the morning and thought, ’how can we harass the Schofields today?’” The Schofield’s son had to move back into his parents’ house for two years, delaying the Schofields from selling and moving to a smaller condo they now live in.
     
“He literally put our lives on hold for two years,” Ann said, “not to mention the $22,000 lost from our retirement nest egg.” The Schofields have no way now to make that up.
     
So even though the landlords finally won, they lost — simply because their tenants used the legal trick allowed by Massachusetts law to delay eviction with code violations.