Year: 2003

November 22, 2003

Many court battles turn on the precise interpretation of ambiguous and sometimes obscure legal phrases. But sometimes the language of a contract or a statute means precisely what it says. Fortunately for the property owner we represented, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) found the plain language of the statute to be quite clear in a suit questioning whether a parcel of land was exempt from zoning changes enacted after the property was acquired. The [Read More...]

October 22, 2003

Massachusetts courts have been clarifying, and progressively weakening, the theory of “contract zoning” for years. But a recent decision by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) all but completely discards this legal precept. Plaintiffs have used contract zoning claims to thwart or delay developments they oppose, by arguing that zoning changes approved by local officials benefit private parties exclusively, to the detriment of the public interest as a whole. Prior court decisions have weakened this legal [Read More...]

September 2, 2003

On March 14th the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the State’s highest court, rendered a decision which this writer sees as a fighting extension of the grounds for liability for community associations – O’Brien v. Christensen. While the Court makes but a passing reference to the fact that it has not examined whether any special rule should apply because the case involved a condominium since none of the parties raised the issue, in actuality the Court’s [Read More...]

August 22, 2003

Most commercial landlords and tenants are aware that Massachusetts landlord-tenant laws are far more solicitous of residential tenants. But the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) made the legal landscape, if not entirely even, then certainly a bit less rugged for commercial tenants when it ruled last year that the principle of “mutually dependent covenants,” which provides legal ammunition for residential tenants, applies to commercial tenants as well. [SJC Decision Gives Commercial Tenants New Rights….] That decision, [Read More...]

May 22, 2003

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the signing of the federal Fair Housing Act, an occasion the Bush Administration commemorated with a proclamation urging all Americans to promote equal housing opportunities and a press release highlighting the federal government’s efforts to advance fair housing goals. Like most fair housing discussions, the announcement emphasized the laws barring discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities and families with children. But the Fair Housing statute also contains important [Read More...]

March 22, 2003

Smoke doesn’t just get in your eyes, as an old torch song proclaims. In multifamily buildings, cigarette smoke from nearby units wafts annoyingly into units occupied by non-smokers, creating tensions between neighbors and spurring demands for remedial action in apartment buildings and condominium communities alike. The question for community associations is, what, if anything, can you do about it? Landlords clearly have the right to ban smoking, if they choose, in units they own and [Read More...]

February 22, 2003

Municipal officials have been grumbling for years about Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B – the state’s anti-snob zoning statute. But last year, they mounted an aggressive and very nearly successful campaign to undermine it. The law allows developers of new projects with an affordable housing component to short-cut the local approval process, by obtaining one, all-inclusive local permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in communities where affordable housing constitutes less than 10 percent of [Read More...]

January 22, 2003

The process for appealing local site plan decisions will be clearer in the future, thanks to a recent decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court (“Appeals Court”). The Appeals Court’s ruling, in Cumberland Farms, Inc. vs. Planning Board of Bourne, establishes a uniform judicial standard for reviewing planning decisions, bringing a welcome measure of procedural order to a process that has evolved somewhat haphazardly from disparate local development approval practices. Cumberland encountered that procedural thicket when [Read More...]