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GBREB Files Amicus Brief in Support of Worcester Landlords

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board has filed an amicus brief in Worcester v. College Hill Properties, LLC currently pending before the Supreme Judicial Court. The case involves interpretation of the Massachusetts statute regulating “lodging houses”, defined to mean any building “where lodgings are let to four or more persons not within the second degree of kindred” to the owner.

A Housing Court judge ruled, and the Appeals Court agreed, that the landlords should have obtained lodging house licenses before allowing their apartments to be rented by four or more unrelated college students. Fines totaling approximately $18,000 were assessed and the landlords were ordered to have the occupants removed.

Regardless of the living arrangements which were permitted by the landlords, it should have been clear that these units were not “lodgings” under the statute. Each was configured as a traditional apartment, complete with a living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom as well as separate bedrooms. In this connection, the State Sanitary Code recognizes a clear distinction between apartments and lodgings (otherwise known as rooming units), defining the latter as a “group of rooms let to an individual or household for use as living and sleeping quarters but not for cooking.” Prior court decisions have reached the same conclusion.

GBREB argues in its brief that the lower courts have blurred, if not eradicated altogether, the well-understood demarcation line separating apartments from lodging houses, upsetting settled expectations of owners, managers and mortgage lenders. While the Appeals Court may have been correct when it noted that a group of college students “is not an arrangement that lends itself to the formation of a stable and durable household”, statutory definitions are not supposed to be judicially enlarged to satisfy some judge’s notion of desirable public policy. As the SJC itself observed many years ago, radical changes in the common understanding of statutory terms should not be made without a plain expression of legislative intent.

This matter would certainly have broad and significant ramifications for the Greater Boston area given the number of rental units, colleges and students that live, study and work here if the case is upheld by the SJC. The case is scheduled to be argued in January, with a decision to follow approximately three months later, at which time we will update you, accordingly.