Heard: January 8, 2018.
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.
Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...