The Dead Cats Lady
What the Media Never Told

By Skip Schloming
May, 2003

The owner and all the tenants had complained, month after month, to Boston's Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and the Housing Court, by phone call, in writing and in signed affidavits and nothing was done. Inspectors had failed for eight months. Judges had equivocated and delayed for six months. Finally, in desperation, some half-dozen neighbors all called the police. 'Just come, smell the stench, hear to dog barking', they pleaded. The police came, smelled, heard. They busted in. They found five live cats, a scrawny Great Dane dog, and 62 frozen cats, kittens and newborn kittens in freezers. That's when, nine months after it all started, it hit the media.

By appointment only
Heidi Erickson moved into 103 Charles Street last September 1. Within a week, the owner received numerous phone calls from other tenants in the building. By September 16, the owner had secured a written complaint from the Charles Street business located below the Dead Cat Lady's unit, and Boston's Housing Inspection Division had received a complaint from the tenant immediately above, alleging "feces smell from tenant below."
With no sense of urgency (one week later) by appointment, Housing Inspector Leonard Pucchia inspects and concludes: "Odor not strong enough at visit to warrant writing a violation at this time. Occupant [upstairs tenant] advised to request an additional visit when conditions warrant."
On October 7, the owner himself calls in a complaint of "strong odor." Two days later, Inspector Pucchia, by appointment, concludes: "No cause. Landlord will reschedule, if necessary."
Over the next few months, Inspector Pucchia makes eight to ten inspections by appointment, with the same results. The other tenants report strong perfume odors at the time of inspections. Obviously, the tenant cleans up before inspections.

Owner Acted Quickly
While ISD inaction dragged on and on, the owner acted fast and gave the Dead Cats Lady an eviction notice on September 30. He also went to court for an injunction to remove the animals immediately. He had gathered letters from all his tenants. He had a Cambridge court case showing the Dead Cats Lady had just been evicted from a Cambridge apartment for exactly the same problem: horrific odor bothering other tenants and neighbors, starting shortly after she had moved in.
The Cambridge judge found that the apartment had been visited more than 30 times by inspectors, that she was advertising Persian cats for sale on the Internet, that her claim that she was offering the cats up for "adoption" and that money received was a "donation" was a flat-out lie, that she often refused to let inspectors in, that she retaliated against complainants by filing "numerous court actions against them," and that she had been found previously to be abusing the legal process and ordered not to file complaints without permission but continued to do so. The Cambridge eviction took 12 months, and the owner finally paid the Dead Cats Lady $2,000 to move.

Two injunctions denied
The now-under-siege Boston owner, seeking an injunction, took this information to Boston Housing Court Judge Anne Caplin, who said he had no case. The other tenants' letters were hearsay, and the previous court case was irrelevant.
The owner calls SPOA, who gives him the name of Boston attorney Emil Ward. Ward gets the tenants' letters turned into affidavits. And seeking an injunction once again (after two delays initiated by the Dead Cats Lady), Ward also brings the reluctant tenant-neighbors in person into the courtroom of Boston Housing Court Judge Jeffrey Winik on January 29.
Were they all conspiring against the Dead Cats Lady? Just to make sure, Judge Winik decides he has to view the unit himself. He orders no one to leave the courtroom until he does. But the Dead Cats Lady passes her keys to a friend who runs out. Judge Winik is told what happened. Winik questions her. She says her friend is not going to the apartment, he's just upset. Judge Winik scowls.
At the apartment, the windows and doors are wide open, a bathroom perfume is going full-blast, and cat feces have been shoveled into the bathtub. One can barely pass through the cramped apartment. Winik sees it all, returns to his judge's bench, and says: "Yes, the unit is in horrendous condition, there's cat feces in the tub, the perfume is on automatic, the dog looks awfully skinny, but the conditions do not rise to the standards of an injunction. I can't order her to get rid of her dog or cats." End of injunction approach.

Slow eviction trial
Meanwhile, Attorney Ward proceeds with the eviction the owner began on September 30. Despite all previous delays and clear urgency (two injunction requests, all units suffering stench, and three units not paying rent since September and November), the Housing Court assigns a trial date two and a half months later, in mid-March.
At trial, the Dead Cats Lady had failed to answer Attorney Ward's pre-trial discovery questions, usually grounds for ending a case. Judge Winik says he won't dismiss it, telling Ward to proceed now or wait 10 days for the Dead Cat Lady's discovery answers. With four carefully gathered witnesses, including subpoenaed tenant neighbors, all standing in the courtroom, Ward decides he must proceed.
The Dead Cats Lady chooses to be her own lawyer, and Judge Winik lets her wander and wander for five long days, cross-examining witnesses at length and subpoenaing new witnesses mid-trial. Winik even let her take a cell-phone call during the trial (the rule is all cell-phones off in the courtroom). The five-day-long trial to "establish the facts of the case" was "brutal," says Ward. Of course, the Dead Cats Lady is losing nothing while the owner is "hemorrhaging," as Ward says. The cost of tying up the court system, including at least five staff in the courtroom, falls to the taxpayers. Finally, Judge Winik takes a whole month to write his decision, again a long delay. On April 16, he rules she should be evicted.

City charges dismissed
Finally, a week later and seven months after getting first notice, ISD brings criminal charges against the Dead Cats Lady. The matter goes before Boston Housing Court's Chief Justice Manuel Kyriakakis, who says it's not a criminal matter and gives her another 10 days to get rid of her cats.
At the last moment, the Dead Cats Lady appeals Judge Winik's eviction decision, and that appeal, which could take many, many months, is still pending. Because of the appeal, the Dead Cats Lady is - even after the police bust-in - still technically in possession of the apartment. The owner can't rent it.
The hemorrhaging continues. Biohazard clean-up costs were $7,500. The second-floor tenant likely will sue - not the Dead Cats Lady - but the owner.

Other Amazements
A Somerville owner was hit by the Dead Cats Lady prior to the Cambridge owner prior to the Boston owner. And now she has just been caught for exactly the same problems - 52 sickly live cats and nearly a dozen dead ones - in a Watertown apartment.

In January, Attorney Ward informed authorities that he suspected Section 8 fraud, since she had a subsidy voucher in Cambridge and in Boston. Her website showed she was trading in expensive Persian cats. Authorities called Ward only after the story hit the media in late April.

Skip Schloming is Executive Director of The Small Property Owners Association(SPOA)
P.O. Box 398115, Cambridge, MA 02139



 




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