Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rental Property Management Services v. Hatcher

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

May 15, 2018

RENTAL PROPERTY MANAGEMENT SERVICES & another [1]
v.
LORETTA HATCHER.

          Heard: January 8, 2018.

         Summary process. Complaint filed in the Western Division of the Housing Court Department on March 24, 2016. A motion for partial summary judgment was heard by Dina E. Fein, J., and entry of final judgment was ordered by her.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Joel Feldman for the defendant.

          Stanley D. Komack (John B. Stewart & Jason R. Ferenc also present) for the plaintiffs.

          Patricia Whiting & Andrea Moon Park, for Harvard Legal Aid Bureau & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Joshua M. Daniels & Richard M.W. Bauer, for National Consumer Law Center & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          GANTS, C. JUDGE.

         In 2016, Fred Basile, a property manager, brought a summary process action in the Housing Court in the name of his sole proprietorship, seeking to evict a tenant from a property for which he was neither the owner nor the lessor. Basile claimed that he was the manager for the property, and was acting as the agent of the owner when he filed the summary process complaint.

         We hold that Basile had no standing to bring a summary process action in his name, where he was not the owner or lessor of the property. We also hold that, to the extent that he was acting on behalf of the true owner of the property when he filed the complaint, his conduct constituted the unauthorized practice of law because he was not an attorney.

         We further declare that, where the plaintiff in a summary process action is neither the owner nor the lessor of the property, the court must dismiss the complaint with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, regardless of whether a motion to dismiss has been presented by the defendant. Where the plaintiff is the true owner or lessor, but the complaint has been signed and filed by another person who is not an attorney, the court may either immediately dismiss the complaint without prejudice based on the unauthorized practice of law, or order that the complaint shall be dismissed on a designated date unless the plaintiff before that date retains counsel or proceeds pro se, and amends the complaint accordingly.

         Finally, we hold that such conduct is not enough, on its own, to constitute an unfair or deceptive practice in violation of G. L. c. 93A. However, where a plaintiff seeks to evict a tenant without the standing to do so, or where a person who is not authorized to practice law signs and files a summary process complaint -- and where that conduct is not inadvertent but by design, or part of a pattern or practice -- we hold that a court has the inherent authority, in the exercise of its sound discretion, to impose appropriate sanctions, including attorney's fees and other costs, in order to ensure the fair administration of justice and to deter such conduct in the future.[2]

         Background.

         In January, 2016, Basile issued a notice to quit to Loretta Hatcher, informing her that she must leave the premises she was renting in Springfield by March 31, 2016, "or we will go to court and seek permission to evict you." In the notice to quit, Basile described himself as the "property manager" and "agent for Andrew Arvanitis, " an owner of the property.

         On March 21, 2016, ten days before the deadline given in the notice to quit, Basile filed a summary process complaint in the Western Division of the Housing Court Department to evict Hatcher. The complaint was written on a form provided by the Housing Court. Where the form asked for the name of the "PLAINTIFF/LANDLORD/OWNER, " Basile wrote the name of his sole proprietorship: "Rental Property Management Services." Where the complaint asked for the name and signature of the "Plaintiff or Attorney, " Basile printed and signed his own name. Arvanitis's name was not included anywhere in the complaint.

         In her answer to Basile's complaint, Hatcher brought various affirmative defenses, including defenses asserting that Basile is not the owner or lessor of the property and therefore has no legal right to possession, and that Basile is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by representing the property owner in this case. She also brought various counterclaims, including a counterclaim that Basile, by "portraying himself as having the legal authority to initiate and prosecute an eviction proceeding against [Hatcher], " engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in violation of G. L. c. 93A.

         In answer to Hatcher's interrogatories and request for admissions, Basile admitted that he is neither the owner nor the lessor of the property, and is not an attorney. He stated that he was orally directed by the owner to serve the tenant with the notice to quit and the summary process summons and complaint. He identified the owners of the property as Andrew Arvanitis and "Kathleen Stevens-Arvanitis, as trustee." In a separate summary process action Basile brought against another tenant, Shavonna Williams, Basile admitted in answer to a request for admissions that, since 2007, he has initiated over ninety summary process cases in his own name or in the name of Rental Property Management Services, in each case seeking to evict tenants from properties that he does not own. He also admitted that he was aware that a property agent who is not an attorney may not represent a property owner in a lawsuit in the Housing Court, but stated that he and others had been allowed to do so "by the Western Division [of the] Housing Court, [m]ediators, [a]ssistant [c]lerks and also [l]egal [a]id."

         Hatcher moved for partial summary judgment on her c. 93A counterclaims, arguing that by commencing a summary process action against her when he was neither the owner nor the lessor of the property, and was not an attorney, he had committed an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of c. 93A. Williams brought a similar motion, based on the same conduct by Basile, and both motions were argued in ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.