Judge: Renovations Must Be Limited

Old Commons tenants get quiet, less cluttered site

October 21, 2003 | Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Kimberly Ashton, Staff Writer

Northampton — Tenants of the Old School Commons buildings say they have been putting up with too much trouble while the owners have been converting the apartments to condominiums.

This month, Housing Court Judge Dina Fein agreed. She ordered the owners to respect rights of tenants to enjoy their homes in quiet.

According to the complaint, renovations to the building, which have been in progress over the past six months, would begin as early as 7 a.m. and go as late as 8:30 p.m. Fein ordered construction limited to 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“They feel like they’ve been living in a construction site for months,” said the tenants’ lawyer, Joel Feldman of Springfield. “The tenants said they couldn’t function there.”

“It’s beer a terrible inconvenience for us,” said tenant Martin Chaisson, one of the plaintiffs.

The tenants also complained that workers would occasionally enter their apartments without permission. Fein said that workers could not enter an apartment without his permission if the work was cosmetic or discretionary. Even if a tenant allowed such work, he or she would have to be notified at least 48 hours in advance.

Conditions affecting a tenant’s health or safety require at least 24 hours notice and residents cannot unreasonably deny access, Fein wrote.

She also ordered that construction workers must keep the building secure, clean up after themselves and not block exits and hallways for long periods of time. Tenants had said such matters proved to be problematic.

The owners “intend to comply with the Court’s decision to limit the work hours and provide additional “formal” notice to all tenants regarding the conversion. Emerald City (the owner) believes that the improvements being made to these great buildings can be done in a way to minimize tenant disruption and that the work will ultimately benefit both current tenants and future condo owners,” J. Rockwell Allen, who manages the buildings with Westfield-based Rockwell Management, wrote in an email to the Gazette.

The judge, however, did not support the tenants’ claims that the owners deprived them of their rights to continued tenancies, relocation benefits, replacement housing assistance, restricted rent increases and/or purchase of their units.

The group of tenants – Chaisson, Todd Taupier, Adrian Beaulieu, Hollis Wheeler and Peter Lefcort – filed the suit filed in Hampshire Superior Court and seeking regulations placed on the defendants’ renovation work on Sept. 18 against former building owner Soda Creek Trading Co., Inc., Rockwell Management, Inc., Old School Commons Nominee Trust and its trustee, Colleen Allen, and Emerald City Partners, LLC.

There is some dispute over ownership. Tenants say that Old School Commons Nominee Trust owns the property but the defendants claim it’s owned by Emerald City. Fein mentioned the dispute in her ruling but did not offer an opinion on the buildings’ ownership.

Colleen Allen, trustee of Old School Commons Nominee Trust, is the wife of J. Rockwell Allen.

Emerald City Partners comprises the Allen’s daughters, Cassandra and Amanda Allen.

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