The Quincy Housing Authority will pay one of its tenants $11,500 to settle a complaint that the agency let problems go for years without repair.
The parties reached an out-of-court settlement shortly before noon Wednesday, and all problems in the apartment have since been fixed, an attorney for tenant Christine Nye said.
According to the attorney, Gary Allen, the settlement “is fair in terms of the compromises we reached.”
The lawsuit has began in October. Nye fell behind in her rent, and the housing authority started an eviction proceeding.
Allen became involved soon thereafter. In addition to helping Nye file a counterclaim in court, he said he discovered there had been longstanding problems with the apartment.
Inspection forms from the Department of Health dating to October 2011 showed what were deemed dangerous health problems, including a leaky roof that led to several broken smoke detectors, mold in the basement, and problems with the heat.
Follow up inspections in January 2012 showed the problems still existed.
A November 2012 report showed several deteriorating conditions - light fixtures were filling up with water due to leaks, smoke detectors were still broken, the kitchen floor was cracking, and windows weren’t closing properly.
Work order documents also show that the apartment’s boiler broke in November 2012, a problem that left the entire apartment without heat for approximately a month.
Though some ceiling issues were fixed, and the boiler replaced, most of the problems still plagued the apartment in an October 2013 inspection
“She’s a single mom, head of household,” Allen said. “She’s got four children and four grandchildren all living in this apartment … she’s always worried about the wiring. The rainwater was dripping through a light fixture and through the smoke detectors.”
The kitchen floor problems were also due to rot, Allen said, the smell of which kept residents from eating in the kitchen. Allen said housing authority officials said in court that space heaters were given to tenants during the boiler problems, yet Nye said she didn’t receive them until days before the boiler was fixed.
As part of the eviction process, problems were rectified in the apartment by December, Allen said. Meanwhile, Allen pressed for $14,000 in damages. Housing authority officials offered $4,000, Allen said.
Allen said the parties reached an agreement on the $11,500 figure on Wednesday.
Housing authority Executive Director James Lydon said he felt the settlement was fair.
"I think the housing authority was clearly in the wrong," he said in a phone interview. "We did not address this woman’s problems. Had it gone to trial, we would have found to been at fault."
Lydon, in the position since June 2013, has long believed the system has been problematic. He sent out a memo in late November installing a new method for handling health department complaints.
Since, Lydon said his department has responded to new complaints faster, and communication has increased around previous complaints that might have fallen through the cracks.
“[It is] meant to be rectification over the older process, which clearly was flawed,” Lydon said prior to the settlement in a phone interview. “It was designed to bring more front office attention to issues that may have evolved with the health department.”
Even with more clearly identified issues, funding continues to be a problem, Lydon said.
“Our housing stock is old. I think our newest building is probably 30 to 40 years old,” he said. “I don’t have enough money to fix all the problems we have. What we try to do is prioritize things and fix the things that are the worst or most important first.”
Housing Code Inspector Glenn Spencer said in a phone interview prior to the settlement that cases such as Nye’s are rarities.
“[The Housing Authority] gets my citation and I get a call from maintenance giving me an idea of when they are going to be there,” Spencer said. “They are very good about it, they have a lot of people looking over their shoulder.”
Spencer said other cases open for the Housing Authority are newer ones, and time had not expired on the schedule for follow-up inspections.
Yet other tenants might be experiencing similar problems. Allen said he’s been in touch with several housing authority tenants that have repairs outstanding.
“I don’t know if the Housing Authority has a new handling process for inbound calls as opposed to existing problems,” Allen said. "I think the Housing Authority still has some problems ahead of them. And the outcome of this court case is they will have to be more sensitive or encounter more litigation.”