Court rejects suit by landlord against tenant in condemned building

The Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday dismissed a suit by a Dorchester landlord against a tenant who testified about the conditions inside his apartment during a city hearing on whether to condemn the building.

James Dickey had sued James Warren under the state's anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law, which is normally used to protect civic organizations from ruinous lawsuits by large corporations they speak out against. Dickey alleged that Warren lied about problems with a furnace in Dickey's building at 97 Mt. Ida Rd. and therefore caused him serious harm.

A city inspector making a routine visit to check on some siding work in 2003 found so many problems with the building, he moved to condemn it. At a hearing on that decision, Warren "indicated," according to the court, that he had moved out because of an earlier problem with the building's furnace.

Dickey, however, charged he had fixed the furnace as soon as he was notified about the problem and that Warren hadn't complained about it until the condemnation hearing. This, he said, was proof Warren was out to cause him serious harm.

The appeals court rejected that argument. In its decision, the justices said that even if Warren had mistakenly testified why he'd moved out of the apartment, it didn't matter, because there were so many things wrong with the building that ISD would have condemned the building anyway:

"Dickey sets out in his affidavit the various expenses he incurred as a result of the department's condemnation order. However, as shown by the department's decision, the condemnation of Dickey's building was based upon the numerous violations of the State Sanitary Code observed by [ISD inspector Edward] Kennedy during his inspection of the building on September 16, 2003. None of the cited violations that resulted in the condemnation of the building concerned the furnace."

Read the complete decision.