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Tchad Cort v. Majors

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

August 31, 2017

TCHAD CORT
v.
ALVER MAJORS.

          Heard: May 10, 2017.

         Summary Process. Complaint filed in the Boston Division of the Housing Court Department on September 2, 2015.

         The case was heard by MaryLou Muirhead, J.

          Carson Denny (Patricia Whiting also present) for the defendant.

          Tchad Cort, pro se.

          Present: Milkey, Sullivan, & Henry, JJ.

          HENRY, J.

         The defendant tenant, Alver Majors (tenant), appeals from a Housing Court judgment, entered following a bench trial, that awarded to the plaintiff landlord, Tchad Cort (landlord), possession of an apartment in which the tenant resided. The trial judge also awarded damages to the landlord for nonpayment of rent, reduced by the amount of relief granted to the tenant on his counterclaims for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and breach of G. L. c. 93A. The tenant argues that the judge erred by ruling that the tenant waived his right to a jury trial by failing to object to the commencement of a bench trial. We conclude that the tenant did not waive his right to a jury, and therefore vacate the judgment.

         Background.

         The tenant lived for four years in the basement unit of the landlord's building at 96 Mount Pleasant Avenue in the Roxbury section of Boston, paying $600 per month in rent. In April of 2015, the tenant ceased paying his rent.

         In September, 2015, the landlord filed a claim for possession in the Housing Court due to the tenant's nonpayment of rent. The tenant timely filed an answer and counterclaims alleging violations of the implied warranty of habitability and G. L. c. 93A, and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. The tenant's answer included a request for a jury trial in the caption and in the body of the answer. The tenant's jury claim was separately docketed.

         The tenant and the landlord both appeared pro se on the date scheduled for trial. When the case was called, the judge asked the tenant if he was prepared to move forward with the trial and he responded affirmatively. The judge then asked the clerk to swear in the witnesses and called the landlord to the witness stand. After the landlord had finished her testimony and while the tenant was midway through his own testimony, the tenant stated, "I'd like a jury." The judge replied that the trial had begun and that the tenant had waived that right. The tenant responded, "You didn't tell me that." After this exchange, the judge asked, "What else would you like to tell me, sir?" and the tenant continued with his testimony.

         The judge awarded possession to the landlord, as well as damages for rent owed in the amount of $3, 600. The judge also awarded $2, 400 in damages to the tenant for the conditions in the apartment, which partially offset the amount owed to the landlord, resulting in a net award to the landlord of $1, 200.

         D ...


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