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MALDEN, MEDFORD

Tenants, landlord may fight in court

By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2012
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The fight between the new owner of hundreds of apartments in Medford and Malden and a tenants’ union formed to oppose rent increases could escalate into a court battle.

Anwar Faisal, the Boston real estate magnate who purchased 265 units in four buildings in April, has filed dozens of eviction proceedings in Malden District Court against tenants he said are refusing to negotiate or provide their names or phone numbers.

"This is the only way to pressure them," Faisal said. "If they come forward, they will have my heart and my mind."

Faisal has contended that previous rents were below market value for the area, and has asked for 20 to 30 percent above what many tenants have been paying. Depending on the unit size and its features, the increases have been for $200 to $300 per month, and more for some multibedroom apartments.

Most of the evictions are slated to go before judges later this month or in early September, giving tenants and Faisal a window in which to work out their differences.

According to Alice Alisme, organizer for the renters’ group Malden/Medford Tenants United, Faisal has resisted individual negotiations, and Faisal’s employees in Alpha Management have continued to intimidate those tenants who have not come forward to identify themselves, sign new leases, and agree to higher rent. The tenants’ group is expected to demonstrate outside Malden District Court Thursday.

Faisal’s $23.5 million purchase included three large apartment buildings — located at 17-19 Washington St.; 349 Pleasant St.; and 86-96 Maple St. in Malden; 53-63 Fellsway West in Medford; and one smaller property, a duplex, at 40 Cedar St. in Malden.

The tenants’ group says Faisal has changed locks without residents' permission, allowed rental agents to come and go freely in people's apartments, and used a parking sticker requirement to leverage residents into signing paperwork.

A resident of one of the Malden buildings, Jim Boone, 78, who is temporarily disabled while recovering from a broken hip, said he encountered resistance from Alpha when he sought a parking sticker that the management company required. After he paid his $50 monthly parking rate, Boone said Alpha staff withheld the window sticker until he signed a lease and agreed to pay $200 more for his apartment and $25 more for his parking space.

“They’re saying people who were not tenants should not be parking in the lot. But their definition of a tenant is someone who’s signed a lease with the new landlord,” Boone said in a phone interview. “They were threatening to tow people’s cars. I felt that I had been terrorized.”

Faisal denies the charges against Alpha, and said he only wants to work out the dispute. To begin that process, he said residents must fill out a standard rental application that would allow him to verify income and run a credit check.

“They want to talk to me as a group, I have no problem, everyone fill out [rental] applications” Faisal said. “[If] I know who I am speaking to, I sit down with all of them.”

The schism between Faisal and the tenants’ group has persisted since discussions facilitated in May by Mayor Gary Christenson of Malden failed to produce an agreement. The tenants, who at that time had not yet obtained legal counsel, are discussing options with attorneys at Greater Boston Legal Services.

Lauren Song, an attorney with the nonprofit who is advising the tenants’ group, said although Faisal has moved aggressively to pursue evictions, litigation and court action is expensive, time-consuming, and usually undesirable for both sides.

“My hope is that Mr. Faisal will understand that there is a unified effort on the part of the tenants to want to negotiate and to avoid the mass displacement that the rent increases will bring,’’ Song said.

“We want to see if we can engage in some communications to see if we can resolve some of these litigations collectively,” she said. “It's up to Mr. Faisal.”

Faisal said the previous owner kept shoddy tenant records, leaving him to piece together who is living in his buildings, along with information that most landlords require at the time of rental, such as proof of income.

“Some people trying to twist my arm and telling me how I should run my business,” Faisal said. “I do sympathize with people, who for two, three years, haven’t received salary increases.

“There is no way for me to run the company the way they want me to run it.”

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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