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2011 Attorney General Press Releases

For Immediate release – June 29, 2011

QUINCY REAL ESTATE COMPANY PAYS $7,500, IMPLEMENTS EMPLOYEE TRAINING PROGRAM TO RESOLVE ALLEGATIONS IT DISCRIMINATED AGAINST POTENTIAL TENANTS WITH CHILDREN

BOSTON – A Quincy Real Estate Company has paid $7,500 and will implement an employee training program to settle allegations that it unfairly discriminated against prospective tenants with children, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

Central Real Estate NQ, LLC and its agent Elizabeth Forde, allegedly violated state anti-discrimination, consumer protection, and lead paint laws by refusing to show prospective tenants with young children, who were testers from the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, available apartments because of their lead status. Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to refuse to rent or steer families away from rental properties because they have children under the age of six whose presence requires an owner to remove lead hazards from the rental unit.

“Massachusetts law prohibits real estate professionals from refusing to rent to prospective tenants because they have children,” AG Coakley said. “It is illegal to steer families with young children from an apartment they are interested in because the apartment does or may contain lead paint.”

According to the AG’s lawsuit, filed in August 2010, the real estate company posted advertisements on Craigslist stating the rental apartments at issue contained lead paint. When contacted by testers from the Fair Housing Center, the agent attempted to steer prospective tenants with young children to other units.

The settlement requires Central Real Estate and its employees and agents to abide by federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws; complete training on state and federal fair housing laws; adopt and implement anti-discrimination policies; remove any references to a unit having lead paint from future advertisements; and notify the Attorney General’s Office of any housing discrimination complaints for the next three years. In addition, Central Real Estate and Ms. Forde will pay $5,000 to the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston and $2,500 to the Commonwealth.

As an advocate for victim and consumer rights, Attorney General Coakley’s office works to ensure the civil rights and liberties of visitors and residents of the Commonwealth are preserved and protected. Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual or a family seeking housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status (e.g. children or marital status), national origin, or handicap/disability. These laws also prohibit discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by realtors, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Patricio Rossi of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

 

For Immediate release – July 28, 2011

Melrose Landlord Enters Settlement with AG Coakley for Alleged Discrimination Against Prospective Tenant

BOSTON – A Melrose landlord has entered into a settlement resolving allegations that he refused to rent to a prospective tenant because she participates in the Section 8 housing subsidy program, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

The Assurance of Discontinuance, filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court against Robert Cook, orders the landlord to pay the victim $2,000, attend training on state and federal fair housing laws, and bars him from discriminating in the future. Cook is subject to a $2,000 civil penalty if he fails to comply with the agreement.

“Housing subsidy programs provide invaluable assistance to thousands of low income tenants in Massachusetts,” AG Coakley said. “Landlords in Massachusetts must understand that it is illegal to refuse to rent to persons receiving housing assistance. Compliance with the law is an important obligation.”

According to the complaint referred to the Attorney General’s Office in March 2011, Cook refused to rent a Melrose apartment to the victim after she disclosed to him that she intended to pay for her rent using a Section 8 federal housing subsidy voucher. Cook denies the allegations. Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against tenants or persons seeking housing because they receive public assistance or because they wish to pay for all or a portion of their rent using a housing voucher.

As an advocate for victim and consumer rights, Attorney General Coakley’s office works to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of visitors and residents of the Commonwealth are preserved and protected. Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual or a family seeking housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status (e.g. children or marital status), national origin, or handicap/disability. These laws also prohibit discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by realtors, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers.

This matter was handled by Maura Healey, Chief of the AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

 

For Immediate release – July 30, 2012

Watertown Landlords Settle Allegations of Housing Discrimination

Landlords Accused of Refusing to Rent to Families with Children Agree to Remove Lead Paint from Two Apartments

BOSTON – The owners of two Watertown apartments have settled allegations that they discriminated against families with children in order to avoid their obligation to remove lead paint hazards, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

Under state law, it is illegal to discriminate against housing applicants because they have children or because the rental would require the landlord to abate lead hazards.

“The Commonwealth’s lead paint law protects children from the damaging effects of lead, which include impaired development, learning difficulties, and behavior problems,” AG Coakley said.  “It is imperative that families with children are able to find lead-safe housing in the Commonwealth.”

The consent judgment entered by Judge Paul E. Troy requires Christopher and Elizabeth Molle to attend fair housing training and delead their two rental units in Watertown.  The consent judgment follows a lawsuit filed collectively against these defendants, as well as a Boston-area real estate agency, and two of its agents for discriminating against families with children.

The Commonwealth’s complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court on April 6, 2012, alleged that, in their efforts to rent a Watertown apartment owned by the defendants, The Gateway Real Estate Group, Inc. (“Gateway”) as well as two of its agents, Jillian Chan and Audrey Flemming, discriminated against families with children under six on at least three separate occasions.  According to the complaint, Gateway, Chan, and/or Flemming refused to show the apartment to a mother of a toddler, rejected a rental application submitted by a couple that was expecting a baby, and falsely informed a mother of a toddler who requested a rental application that the apartment was no longer available.  The complaint further alleges that in each instance Gateway and its agents refused the prospective tenants because the apartment likely contained lead paint and renting to them would have triggered an obligation to abate lead paint hazards.

The consent judgment resolves allegations against Christopher and Elizabeth Molle.  Litigation against Gateway and its agents is ongoing.  The Attorney General’s Office is seeking damages for the victims, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Ann E. Lynch of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

 

For Immediate release – August 12, 2011

Court Finds Owner of Pocasset Mobile Home Park Liable for Failing to Upgrade Septic System

BOSTON – The owner of the Pocasset Mobile Home Park has been found liable for failing to upgrade the property’s failing septic system according to a court order obtained by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office. The manufactured housing community, located in Bourne, has experienced significant and repeated sewage overflows from its septic system over the last year and a half as a result of the owner’s violation of state environmental laws and court orders requiring him to upgrade the parks septic system.

The court order, granted by Justice Nancy Holtz, finds Charles W. Austin personally liable for violating the state’s environmental laws by failing to upgrade the badly failing septic system, despite being issued a permit by MassDEP in May 2007 that required the upgrade. It also holds the Charles W. Austin Trust and the Pocasset Mobile Home Park, LLC liable for that failure. Mr. Austin is the sole trustee of the Trust, which holds title to the property, and he is the sole manager of Pocasset Mobile Home Park, LLC, which operates the property.

“As the owner of the property, it was Mr. Austin’s responsibility to comply with the law and by refusing to do so, he created a significant risk to the health and safety of the families and individuals living there,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “This court order requires Mr. Austin to upgrade the parks septic system and to comply with the law to protect the health and safety of the park’s residents.”

The court order was issued in response to a November 2010 request by the Attorney General’s Office that the court hold Mr. Austin and the other two entities liable for failing to comply with state environmental and consumer protection laws by continuing to operate the Pocasset Mobile Home Park without upgrading the failing septic system.

The court declined at this time to issue a liability determination on the other claims in the lawsuit so that, in the interest of public health, the upgrade of the septic system can be addressed expeditiously.

“MassDEP is pleased and encouraged by this decision, which represents a victory for the residents of Pocasset Mobile Home Park and the environment,” said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell. “Over the past several years, these residents have had to endure threats of sewage backups in and around their homes due to the intransigence of an owner who felt he was above the law.”

The lawsuit, filed in May 2009, also alleges that Mr. Austin violated state regulations prohibiting untreated sewage discharges and that he has violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws by continuing to rent lots at the park despite knowing that the lots are served by a failing septic system that does not comply with the law and could materially impair the health, safety, and well-being of residents.

Since February, the Pocasset Mobile Home Park has been operated and managed by a court-appointed receiver. The Attorney General’s Office sought appointment of that receiver because Mr. Austin refused to pump and maintain the septic system, in violation of several court orders, and was putting the health of residents at risk from repeated sewage overflows to the ground and to the yards of residents. This new development will trigger a provision in the receivership court order that requires the receiver to evaluate the cost of proceeding with the work of upgrading the septic system.

Assistant Attorney General Tracy Triplett from Attorney General Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division is handling this case with assistance from Kristen Metzger of the Civil Investigations Division, and assistance from Shaun Walsh of MassDEP’s Office of General Counsel and MassDEP engineers Brian Dudley and Christos Dimisioris. The Bourne Board of Health has also provided assistance in investigating the case.

For Immediate release – August 24, 2011

Leominster Developer Pays $100,000 for Asbestos Violations Under Settlement with AG Coakley

BOSTON – A developer will pay a civil penalty of $100,000 for violating asbestos laws related to the 2009-2010 renovation and conversion of the former Union Products site in Leominster to retail and commercial space, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

“We will vigorously pursue those who endanger the health of workers and the public by failing to control the release of hazardous asbestos fibers,” said AG Coakley. “This penalty should serve as a reminder to others that we take these violations very seriously.”

The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that developer James L. Xarras failed to take the required precautions to prevent the release of asbestos fibers to the air when workers removed asbestos insulation from heating pipes, dislodged and removed pipes covered with asbestos, and removed other asbestos-containing material during renovation work in one building on the site.

Upon discovering the violations, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection MassDEP promptly shut-down the renovation project. After a state-licensed asbestos contractor implemented emergency containment measures ordered by MassDEP, Xarras continued to perform additional renovation activity. During this process, Xarras cleaned up and improperly removed more asbestos from a building before the licensed contractor started the removal and disposal of all remaining asbestos from the site. After MassDEP discovered these additional violations, the licensed asbestos contractor completely decontaminated the site and properly disposed asbestos waste from two buildings following the required environmental, health and safety regulations.

“Complying with the asbestos regulation is a critical responsibility of building owners and contractors conducting renovation projects,” said MassDEP Deputy Commissioner Gary Moran. “Today’s settlement imposes a tough penalty, and this case sends a clear message that we intend to make sure that building owners and contractors act responsibly to prevent airborne releases of asbestos fibers during renovation work. Building renovation work must not begin until an asbestos inspection is completed so that workers know where the asbestos materials are located.”

Asbestos fibers can cause cancer and other serious respiratory problems and diseases when inhaled. State regulations are designed to help keep asbestos from becoming airborne when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed during renovation, construction or demolition work.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland of AG Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division prosecuted the case with assistance from MassDEP attorney Robert Brown and Regional Asbestos Chief Gregory Levins and Investigator Donald Heeley, both of MassDEP’s Central Regional Office.

For Immediate release – September 23, 2011

AG Coakley Sues Owner and Landlord of Cambridge Property for Housing Discrimination

BOSTON – The owner and landlord of a Cambridge apartment building has been sued for violating state anti-discrimination, lead paint, consumer protection, and housing laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

The complaint was filed in Suffolk Superior Court against Marina Kaufman of Lexington and Ware Hall Trust. The defendants own and manage at least 50 rental units in Cambridge. According to the complaint, the defendants unlawfully retaliated against tenants with a young child for exercising their rights under the state anti-discrimination and lead paint laws.

“Massachusetts law requires landlords to comply with lead paint laws designed to protect young children from known health hazards,” AG Coakley said. “The law also prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants who exercise their right to file a discrimination complaint. Massachusetts is facing critical housing needs and residents must be treated fairly.”

The defendants allegedly engaged in a variety of practices that violated provisions of the Massachusetts housing laws. The complaint alleges that Kaufman and Ware Hall Trust disproportionately increased the monthly rent, refused to accept rental payments, refused to renew the tenants’ lease and failed to abate lead hazards in an apartment rented to tenants with a young child. The complaint further alleges that defendant Jeffrey Cardoza, the building superintendant, engaged in a pattern of harassment against the tenants after they filed a housing discrimination complaint with the Cambridge Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

The Attorney General’s Office filed the complaint after the CHRC found probable cause that the defendants had unlawfully retaliated against the tenants. Under state law, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing fair housing laws and prosecuting housing discrimination cases following probable cause determinations from CHRC. The Attorney General’s Office is seeking injunctive relief and damages for the victims as a result of the defendants’ alleged discriminatory and unlawful housing practices.

As an advocate for victim and consumer rights, Attorney General Coakley’s office works to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of visitors and residents of the Commonwealth are preserved and protected. Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual or a family seeking housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status (e.g. children or marital status), national origin, or handicap/disability. These laws also prohibit discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by realtors, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Gabrielle Viator of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Nancy Ward of the Investigations Division.

For Immediate release – May 08, 2012

Property Owner Arraigned for Allegedly Ordering Unsafe and Illegal Removal of Asbestos from Springfield Rental Property

Property owner paid tenants to remove asbestos without providing proper equipment, warning of dangers, or removal training

SPRINGFIELD — A North Grafton property owner has been arraigned in connection with paying two of her tenants to improperly remove asbestos from her Springfield rental property, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.  The property owner allegedly failed to warn the tenants of the dangers associated with asbestos and did not ensure that they had proper protective equipment or training of removal procedures.

Susan B. Nissenbaum, age 59, was arraigned today in Hampden Superior Court on three counts of violating the Massachusetts Clean Air Act for failure to file a notice of asbestos removal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), improper asbestos removal, and improper asbestos storage.   At the arraignment, Nissenbaum pleaded not guilty and was released on personal recognizance.  Hampden Superior Court Judge Tina Page presided over the arraignment.

According to authorities, in April 2010, Nissenbaum paid two of her tenants to remove asbestos siding from the single-family rental property in Springfield that they were living in and store it on the property.  Authorities allege that although Nissenbaum knew that the siding contained asbestos, she did not inform her tenants how asbestos needed to be handled and failed to ensure that they had the proper training or equipment to do so.  Nissenbaum allegedly failed to ensure that the tenants follow proper procedures to prevent asbestos fibers from being released into the air.  Further investigation revealed that Nissenbaum had the asbestos containing materials stored improperly at the property in torn bags.  As a result, authorities allege that the tenants, their children, and others were exposed to asbestos.  Nissenbaum also allegedly failed to notify MassDEP before commencing work on the project.

In November 2010, after being contacted by a licensed asbestos contractor, MassDEP inspected the site and found the alleged improper removal, storage and release of asbestos.

The Department of Labor Standards requires that the removal of asbestos be performed by a licensed contractor, and pursuant to MassDEP regulations, contractors must provide notification of when the removal will occur and follow certain methods and standards for the safe removal, storage, and disposal of the asbestos throughout the abatement process.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, an interagency unit which is overseen by AG Coakley, MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell, and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan, Jr.  The Strike Force consists of prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General’s Office, and investigators and engineers from the MassDEP who investigate and prosecute crimes that harm or threaten the state’s water, air, or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.

A Hampden County Grand Jury returned indictments against Nissenbaum on April 12, 2012.  She was arraigned in Hampden Superior Court today where she pleaded not guilty and was release on personal recognizance.  Nissenbaum is due back in court on July 6, 2012 for a pre-trial conference.

Members of the public who have information regarding a potential environmental crime are encouraged to contact the MassDEP Environmental Strike Force Hotline at 1-888-VIOLATE (846-5283) or the Attorney General’s Office at 617-727-2200.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Rainer of AG Coakley’s Environmental Crimes Strike Force, with assistance from officers of the Massachusetts Environmental Police and Brian Bordeaux of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

For Immediate release – November 01, 2011

AG Coakley, Local Officials Tour Rehabbed Abandoned Property in Holyoke

HOLYOKE — Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley met with local officials and toured a property in Holyoke that was rehabilitated under the Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative.  The two-family property previously posed a significant threat to public health and safety.

“Just months ago, this abandoned property was a public safety hazard and an eyesore in the neighborhood,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Now, as a result of the collaboration between the City of Holyoke and our office’s Abandoned Housing Initiative, this property has become a home for two families.  We will continue to work with communities across the Commonwealth to address the detrimental effects of the foreclosure crisis through this initiative.”

During the visit, AG Coakley toured the completed rehabilitated property located at 1031 Dwight Street in Holyoke.  AG Coakley was joined by Holyoke Mayor Elaine Pluta and other local officials, and led on the tour by Anthony Witman, President and Founder of Witman Properties, Inc., the receiver of the property.  The receiver was appointed by the court and given authority to take appropriate actions to bring the property back up to code.  This property will be the second completed receivership project on Dwight Street and the twelfth receivership case in Holyoke since 2009.  The other successfully completed receivership property in the neighborhood is an occupied three-family home located at 1215 Dwight Street.

In April 2009, the City of Holyoke indentified a number of problem properties that they were interested in targeting for receivership, and 1031 Dwight Street was identified as a top priority.  The Holyoke Board of Health first inspected the property in April 2009, finding the property vacant and unfit for habitation under the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code.   In May of 2010, after notifying the titleholders about the condition of the property, the AG’s Office filed a petition in Western Division Housing Court to enforce the state sanitary code and for the appointment of a receiver.  Through a partnership with the City of Holyoke and the Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative, the AG’s Office used the receivership statute to have a court-appointed receiver oversee the renovation of the property.  In June 2010, Western Division Housing Court appointed Witman Properties, Inc., a general contractor and property management company in the Pioneer Valley, as the receiver of the property.  The rehabilitation of the property was completed in August 2011 and both units have been rented.

Abandoned properties impact communities in many ways. They are often public safety threats and the blighted properties degrade property values of neighboring homes. These properties are also a tax burden for towns as the communities no longer receive tax revenue for the properties.

During the last few years, AG Coakley’s Office has seen an uptick in reports of abandoned properties.   In 2009, the Attorney General’s Office expanded the Abandoned Housing Initiative and currently has 119 active abandoned properties in the program.  Since the program expansion, seven receiverships have been completed and 55 cases have been closed after properties were repaired and brought up to code by the owners in response to pressure from the AG’s Office.  In addition to Holyoke, the AG’s Office currently has pending and active cases in 23 communities in the Commonwealth, including Worcester, Revere, Randolph, New Bedford, Lawrence, Saugus, Brockton, Pittsfield and Fall River.