The dilapidated house at 97 Mt. Ida Road will remain standing for now, a Suffolk Superior Court judge determined after an impassioned hearing ended in stalemate on Monday.
Landlord James Dickey and the city of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department have been engaged in a series of legal battles over Dickey’s three-decker property for more than a decade. Most recently, a fire in 2011 left the house burned out and open to the elements.
Neighbors and city officials have aligned in the cause of repairing or removing what they describe as an “eyesore,” and a danger to the public. In mid-September, Inspectional Services, with the approval of the mayor, recommended that the house be razed.
Demolition was scheduled for Nov. 5, only to be halted when Dickey appealed to the State Building Code Appeals Board and received a temporary restraining order.
That board was the incorrect venue for appeal, however, which brought the suit before Judge Bonnie H. MacLeod, who was facing a city department with a contractor ready for demolition and a landowner demanding the opportunity to appeal.
MacLeod took both sides to task for their part in the tangle, which she said has left the neighbors bearing the brunt of the hardship. “I can’t imagine the frustration on the people in that community, she said.
Even if a neighbor wanted to sell his or her house and leave the vicinity to be clear of the unsightly property nearby, “Who the hell is going to buy a home in an area where yours is a blight on the community?” she asked Dickey.
When questioned about his lack of initiative in repairing the house, Dickey, a Sudbury resident, maintained that he was waiting on an insurance payout and still planned to appeal the decision. “The building is structurally sound,” he said.
MacLeod expressed dissatisfaction with his rationale, as it left the house open to children, animals, and others. Inspectional Services found the house to be unsafe and heavily damaged. “The fact is, I believe the fire in this case was in 2011,” the judge said. “We are in 2015. Even I, who can’t hold a hammer and nails, could probably have rebuilt this house by now.”
Allyson Holmes, the lawyer for ISD, said Dickey had not filed for any permits with the city to conduct repairs and a contractor was in place if demolition was green-lit.
Though surprised by the city’s “forbearance” in this case, MacLeod leveled criticism at ISD for failing to include clear appellate instructions along with the letter of notice delivered to Dickey informing him that his property would be demolished. Without those instructions, the landlord, who has not retained legal counsel, appealed to the court he guessed was the appropriate venue.
“Show me where someone gave him notice of his right to appeal… so that he isn’t left flailing around,” she asked Holmes. It was left unclear whether Boston requires such notice.
“Based on the record I have, I can’t let you go ahead and raze this house,” she said, finally, visibly frustrated. As the case continues to languish in Housing Court, under the jurisdiction of another judge, MacLeod said she was allowing an injunction against demolition to stand “until you all sort this out.”