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Vo v. City of Boston (including ISD consent form for tenants)

US District. Ct., MA

Vietnamese Families, Greater Boston Legal Services, and the City of Boston Settle Lawsuit Through Consent Decree Defining “Lodging House,” Improving Inspection Procedures, and Affording Privacy Protections and Due Process

Greater Boston Legal Services is pleased to announce that a Consent Decree was entered in United States District Court on Monday, January 24, 2005 in litigation brought against the City of Boston (through its Inspectional Services Department) and the Licensing Board of the City of Boston on behalf of three Vietnamese families. 

The families sued ISD and the Licensing Board back in 2000 after their Dorchester apartments, only affordable to Plaintiffs by sharing them with other Vietnamese immigrants, were the subject of surprise “lodging house” inspections.  At the time, the two agencies were involved in a coordinated crackdown on suspected illegal lodging houses, led by a large team of ISD officials with a video camera.  Both agencies issued violations against the families’ landlord, who then sought to evict the tenant families. 

Seeking to protect their affordable housing, the Vietnamese-speaking families sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law asserting privacy violations and lack of informed consent for the inspections, that they were entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard with respect to the alleged violations, and that as primary tenants sharing with no more than three others, no lodging house license was necessary for their shared living arrangements.   

Judge Rya W. Zobel had agreed with the families’ interpretation of the lodging house statute on summary judgment, ruling with respect to the statute, M.G.L. c. 140 § 22 (which dates back to 1918), that:  1) “history and the law,” as well as the “statutory language and every other indicator of actual practice and common sense plainly contemplate that lodging houses are not always conducted by landlords,” but also by tenants; and that 2) there is a clear distinction between lodgings and apartments such that shared living arrangements (roommates, whether functioning as a “family unit” or leading “entirely independent lives”) “do not fall within the ambit of the Lodging House Statute.” 

Further, with respect to the families’ due process claim, Judge Zobel found that “plaintiffs have a manifest interest in maintaining a home and a landlord-tenant relationship,” and that “the government cannot deprive plaintiffs of this interest without affording them due process of law.” 

As to the agencies’ claims that the families’ status as “at-will tenants” did not warrant notice and a hearing, that the agencies had not actually taken “action’ against them, and that the eviction proceedings “afforded all the process that is due,” she held that “[n]one of these contentions has any merit.”  (See attached summary judgment decision, 2003 U.S. Dist. Lexis 16519; 2003 WL 22174432 (D. Mass 2003)).   

In settling the case, neither ISD nor the Licensing Board admitted to any wrongdoing.  The parties agree that the Decree will result in important policy changes that will clarify for the public what does and does not constitute a lodging house requiring a license, long a topic of confusion, as well as improve ISD’s housing inspections in terms of privacy protections, consent, and translation.  In addition, the Decree requires that tenants, as affected parties, be afforded notice and an opportunity to be heard when either agency takes action involving their occupancy.   The agencies also together agreed to pay $139,000 to settle the case.    

CONTACT:  Stefanie A. Balandis, Esq., GBLS, Tel. 617-603-1653 (Counsel for Plaintiffs, along with Daniel S. Manning of GBLS)Jean M. Lorizio, Esq., Executive Secretary of the Licensing Board of the City of Boston, Tel. 617-635-4170 (Counsel for Licensing Board)Merita Hopkins, Office of Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston, Tel. 635-4034 

Attached are the order and decision, the consent decree and a consent form for tenants created by ISD as a result of this case. 

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