January 24, 2020

Housing Court, Northeast Division

Fairlie A. Dalton, J.


This is a summary process action brought to recover possession of the subject rental premises pursuant to a thirty-day notice to quit for cause/fault. The defendant did not file an answer but testified at trial without objection. Kelly Osmer, Residential Director for the plaintiff, testified on behalf of the plaintiff. Based on the credible testimony and other evidence presented and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom at the trial on January 23, 2020, in light of the governing law, the court finds as follows:

The plaintiff, Merrimack Valley YMCA, is the owner of the subject rental premises, located at 40 Lawrence Street - Room 404 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, (the SRO) where the defendant, Francisco Vega, resides. The building is a single room occupancy program with 73 rooms operated in conjunction with the Lawrence Housing Authority for chronically homeless adult men. Mr. Vega's tenancy began on March 1, 2019 pursuant to a one-year lease (Exh 1). The monthly rent is $75 due on the first with a grace period extension to the fifteenth. The defendant is also required to abide by the Residential Rules of the Lawrence SRO program (Exh 2) and the program's Visitation Policy (Exh 3).

The plaintiff had a constable serve a thirty-day notice to quit on the defendant on November 27, 2019 (Exh 5). The notice to quit lists material noncompliance with the lease and residential rules as follows as grounds for the termination of the defendant's tenancy: late payment of rent, disturbance of the peace, violation of the visitation policy, failure to maintain his unit in a proper manner, and violation of the smoking policy. At trial, the plaintiff waived the claim of a violation of the smoking policy.

The plaintiff's first allegation of fault is late payment of rent. Mr. Osmer testified that the defendant was more than fifteen days late paying his portion of the subsidized rent in June, September and November. This is a violation of paragraph 3 of the lease. Paragraph 21.b. of the lease describes such repeated late payments as material noncompliance with the lease. It is listed as an "Evictable Rule" in the SRO's rules which are incorporated into the lease. Mr. Vega was given three written warnings for late payment after the lengthy fifteen day grace period (Exh 4). Mr. Vega did not offer any explanation for his repeated late payment of the rent.

The second allegation of fault is disturbance of the peace in the SRO. Ms. Osmer testified that despite oral warnings not to do so, Mr. Vega continued to maintain improper attire in the common areas of the building. Specifically, he walked in the hallway wearing only a towel. This is in violation of "General Rules" B.2. and B.3. He was issued a written warning on October 7, 2019 (Exh 4). [Note 1] Mr. Vega's only explanation for the infraction was that he goes out to work every day and takes two showers per day. He testified that he did not expose himself and no one would have seen him in his towel in the hallway.

The SRO maintains a strict visitation policy "to help ensure the safety and well-being of SRO residents and their guests, to help protect the privacy of residents, the security of personal and YMCA property, and to protect the YMCA's interests" [Note 2] The policy for residents to have visitors is set out in "General Rule" B.1 and the four-page Visitation Policy. The policy establishes categories of people who may visit and specific times for visitation. On September 24, 2019, management had a meeting with residents, including Mr. Vega, regarding the prohibition of all minors from visiting inside the SRO. The plaintiff's third allegation of fault is Mr. Vega's violation of this rule and policy. He was given written warnings for having visitors after curfew hours on September 21, 2019 and for having an adult female and two minors visit on September 27, 2019 (Exh 4). Mr. Vega testified that he should not have been bound by the visitation policies because at the time of these violations, he was working as a security guard in the SRO. [Note 3] In fact the opposite is true. It was part of his job to enforce the very policies that he himself violated.

Finally, the plaintiff testified that Mr. Vega's room was found to be unsanitary during inspections. Management received complaints about the condition of the room from the exterminator for three months. This is a violation of paragraph 9.b. of the lease and "General Rules" A.1., A.2., and 4. Mr. Vega received a written warning on October 3, 2019 regarding hoarding and improper storage of food (Exh 4).

In all, Mr. Vega received eleven written warnings in eleven months, which is considerably more than the average number of warnings received by other residents in the program.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Vega has not been able to bring his behavior into compliance with the program whose goal is help chronically homeless men get back on their feet and maintain a stable tenancy. However, based on the credible evidence at trial, the court finds that the defendant is in material non-compliance with his lease and the rules and policies of the SRO program. The court finds that the plaintiff established its prima facie case for eviction based on cause/fault of the tenant and that the defendant did not present a viable defense.

Order and Entry of Judgment. For the above-stated reasons, Judgment shall enter for the plaintiff for possession of the subject rental premises and costs.


[Note 1] A week after the summons and complaint was served, Mr. Vega was seen on surveillance video punching a storage locker in the common area of the building, knocking the door off its hinges. He was issued a written warning regarding the January 12, 2020 incident (Exh 6). Mr. Vega admitted striking the storage cabinet, although he testified that it was done as a joke with a security guard present. He testified that he struck the door with his open hand. The still photographs from the surveillance video show otherwise (Exh 6). He testified that the cabinet was damaged before he struck it. The photographs show a buckle in the outside wall of the full-length cabinet, but they also show that the door was in place before Mr. Vega struck the cabinet. This incident is not part of the grounds for termination of the tenancy, but it is a concerning behavior by the defendant.

[Note 2] The SRO operates on the upper floors of the YMCA building. The lower floors operate as a business open to members of the YMCA.

[Note 3] Mr. Vega works for a company which contracts with the program to provide security in the SRO. He has since been removed from his security guard position in the building.