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Students Win Tenant’s Rights Case

Judge awards Civil Litigation Clinic client $22,000 in damages against landlord.

Photograph by Vicki Sanders

Boston College Law School’s Civil Litigation Clinic secured a major victory recently on behalf of a local tenant who spent more than three years protesting horrific conditions to an unresponsive landlord. The trial team of Sonja Marrett ’17, Michael Hanify ’17, and Colleen Ciszek ’18, above left, worked for months to prepare for a contentious trial last March and April, and successfully won their client more than $22,000 in damages. Katherine Kim’18, above right, joined the case this fall, pursuing attorneys’ fees.

Clinic supervisor Alexis Anderson noted how unusual it was for a landlord-tenant case to proceed through a full trial. “Over ninety percent of civil cases settle, largely because both sides usually assess the case similarly after full discovery,” she explained. “Here, despite the fact that strong evidence from third party witnesses and the Board of Health confirmed our client’s testimony, the landlord decided to try the case rather than pay our client a dime.”

The decision to pursue trial was costly for the landlord, largely due to the amount of preparation and work clinic students dedicated to the litigation process. “Sonja, Michael, and Colleen handled every stage of the trial,” said Associate Clinical Professor Alan Minuskin, who supervised the students’ trial work. “Every one of their 26 exhibits was admitted into evidence, most over opposing counsel’s objections. All of their motions were allowed. They managed all strategy, fact investigation, legal research, drafting, and communications. They also handled every stage of the trial, from the opening statement through the closing argument.”

Extensive research led clinical students to pursue multi-faceted claims against the landlord for breach of warranty of habitability, breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, retaliation, and multiple violations of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. This layered legal strategy allowed them to pursue damages on issues ranging from water damage to major infestations. Evidence related to uncorrected rodent, bedbug, and cockroach infestations, inoperative appliances, broken doors and locks, leaky ceilings, water damage, and dysfunctional safety detectors, all of which went uncorrected despite multiple pleas from the tenant and orders from the local health board.

Minuskin applauded the work of the clinic students in securing a rare trial victory in a field where most cases settle. “A full-blown trial requires a full-blown effort,” he said. “Now the landlord owes our client for all she endured.”