Northland Faces Class-Action Lawsuit On Church Street South

A prominent New Haven attorney confirmed he will “soon” file a class-action lawsuit against Northland Investment Corp. on behalf of the families living at the crumbling Church Street South housing complex.

“What has been done and is being done to these families is being done to them not because of what they did, but because of who they are, because they have the misfortune of being vulnerable and needing to rely on others to fulfill their social and legal responsibilities,” the attorney, David Rosen (pictured), told the Independent. “The main point about what is hapepning here is that it isn’t just being done to one person or one family, but that it’s being done to a whole segment of our community.”

Rosen said families from Church Street South contacted him seeking representation in a civil suit to recover damages they’ve suffered—ranging from lost furniture to health problems— because of conditions at the federally subsidized apartment complex across from Union Station.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has declared Northland, the complex’s Massachusetts-based owner, in default of its contract for over $3 million a year in rental subsidies for the project. The city has condemned many of the apartments and ordered massive repairs. Northland is now working with the city and HUD to move some families temporarily into hotel rooms and all families to permanent new housing elsewhere over the coming year.

Lawyers form New Haven Legal Assistance represent over 60 of the families living at Church Street South in efforts to seek repairs and safe new housing. But legal aid does not file civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages.

That’s where Rosen now comes in.

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoRosen has practiced law in New Haven for 45 years, handling high-profile cases ranging from the 1970 murder trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale to
class-action cases discrimination and wrongful-death cases. He is one of the lawyers suing the state executive branch in an educational-equity case. He won a $900,000 jury verdict against East Haven police on behalf of Emma Jones (pictured with Rosen) in the killing of her son Malik. (An appeals court subsequently overturned that award.)

Northland CEO Larry Gottesdiener declined comment on the pending suit.

Previous coverage of Church Street South:
First Attempt To Help Tenants Shuts Down
Few Details For Left-Behind Tenants
HUD: Help’s Here. Details To Follow
Mixed Signals For Church Street South Families
Church St. South Families Displaced A 2nd Time—For Yale Family Weekend
Church Street South Getting Cleared Out
200 Apartments Identified For Church Street South Families
Northland Asks Housing Authority For Help
Welcome Home
Shoddy Repairs Raise Alarm—& Northland Offer
Northland Gets Default Order—& A New Offer
HUD, Pike Step In
Northland Ordered To Fix Another 17 Roofs
Church Street South Evacuees Crammed In Hotel
Church Street South Endgame: Raze, Rebuild
Harp Blasts Northland, HUD
Flooding Plagues Once-Condemned Apartment
Church Street South Hit With 30 New Orders
Complaints Mount Against Church Street South
City Cracks Down On Church Street South, Again
Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
Welcome Home — To Frozen Pipes
City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
No One Called 911 | “Hero” Didn’t Hesitate
“New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
Church Street South Tenants Organize

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posted by: Noteworthy on October 23, 2015  7:09am

That there is going to be another round of legal action and more money expended over this is astounding. Was this a personal referral from Legal Aide whose mission seems to be picking at every little thing having to do with CSS. The Register has a story about tenants complaining that dust is now coming in their windows from crews repairing the roofs and now Northland faces more expense in those repairs because the city is making them cover up the windows. If Northland provided catered meals and red carpet treatment, lawyers and regulators will not be satisfied. Just a demand for more, more more…

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on October 23, 2015  9:08am

It seems like a no-brainer that they include NH as part of that suit.  The city had a responsibility to ensure those kinds of conditions didn’t exist, and if the suit doesn’t win you know NH will settle for millions anyways.

posted by: Paul Wessel on October 23, 2015  10:47am

Good for the tenants,in fact for all tenants in New Haven.  This whole affair reminds one of Frederick Douglass’ commentary:  “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them…”

posted by: Noteworthy on October 23, 2015  11:06am

No, Paul, it is not good for all tenants. What will happen, particularly in a tight rental market, is that landlords will not rent to tenants requiring a subsidy because the likelihood they’ll call Legal Aide or Rosen will be too likely - and like vultures, they’ll sit there and happily pick apart the landlord which is what they’re doing now.

And for the record - you take Douglas’ elegant and wonderful commentary woefully out of context. To get where you are, one must torture its meaning, its history and certainly it’s direct call to action by individuals not by government or get rich lawyers.

posted by: Marion on October 23, 2015  11:10am

@Noteworthy:  Unfortunately, I think you’re. Seems to me when lawyers come around claiming that public housing tenants deserve “money damages” for the conditions of their apartments, there is created a disincentive to ever being satisfied with repairs.

posted by: FairHavenRes on October 23, 2015  12:02pm

The tenants SHOULD be compensated for the loss of their personal belongings and for their costs (if any expended) for medical treatments.  Keep in mind that as a private paying tenant, I can withhold rent from my landlord, place it in escrow, and hire contractors to make repairs if my landlord does not comply with his part of my lease agreement.  These tenants do not have such recourse to get a landlord to act, so it must be done in this method.  They’ve been completely ignored by Northland and their issues have been unaddressed for a while now, all while Northland continues to collect their rent.  This is their recourse.

posted by: Marion on October 23, 2015  12:14pm

@FairHavenRes:  Let’s be real here. The chance that a public housing tenant has out-of-pocket expenses for a medical bill is zero. And you say Northland continues to collect “their rent.” Collect from whom?  Isn’t it fair to say the rent comes from the public coffers? If Northland isn’t complying with its contract with the public housing authorities in any respect, then fine, the government should withhold payments to Northland until it does. But I’m not the only one who has a problem with public housing tenants suing for money when we’re already paying for their housing.

posted by: FairHavenRes on October 23, 2015  12:25pm

@Swampfoxil you’ll note that I mentioned “if any expended,” regarding medical payments.  And there are some medical costs that are not covered by Husky/Medicaid; it’s not “no chance” as you indicated.  While we can debate all day about whether or not we should be paying for housing the poor, there is still also the matter of their lost and damaged belongings, as well as any other expenses they had to shell out as a result of this fiasco.

And HUD should definitely be withholding rent on any unit where Northland is not fulfilling its obligations; I completely agree.  But that doesn’t cover the whole of the losses incurred and still leaves tenants with no recourse.

posted by: CityWatcher on October 23, 2015  1:42pm

It looks like more and more people either want to bankrupt Northland or have them give up the property. I am sure the city and special friends already have a plan ready to go for the location.

posted by: darnell on October 23, 2015  5:05pm

Im absolutely astounded by some of the commentary here. These people were ignored for years, while they endured incoming water, BLACK MOLD and rodents to name a few. No telling what medical condiditions they have incurred as a result of the negligence of the landlords.

Also, many of you clearly do not undetand subsidized housing. A PORTION of their rents are paid by the government based on their financial situations. Granted some of them may have a majority of their rents paid, but many of these folks are hardworking citizens caught in low paying jobs based on many factors, some out of their control (the economy, etc).

Noteworthy is the worst offender, his comment that “landlords will not rent to tenants requiring a subsidy because the likelihood they’ll call Legal Aide or Rosen will be too likely - and like vultures, they’ll sit there and happily pick apart the landlord which is what they’re doing now’, ignores the very facts of these situations. These resdients didn’t “happily” pick apart these landlords, they endured years of substandard living conditions, many of them afraid to speak for fear of retribution or worst, being ignored by their government.

To try to paint them as freeloaders not paying rent is absolutely wrong, insulting and immoral.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on October 23, 2015  5:19pm

Tenants could not ask for a better lawyer than David Rosen. He’s been a warrior and civil rights activist for many years and he’s great! I have confidence that Mr. Rosen, working for and with the tenants, will prevail.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 23, 2015  5:34pm

@Darnell.  Adopt a carpenter’s strategy - measure twice and cut once.

posted by: Marion on October 23, 2015  5:47pm

@Darnell: Water seepage, mold, or rodents is totally unacceptable and should’ve been promptly dealt with, not allowed to fester. But Noteworthy does have a point I agree with. Legal aid, coupled with the class action lawyers whose attorney fee demands often complicate and prolong court suits, are a main reason why landlords would rather not rent to welfare recipients. There’s got to be a better resolution for these tenants.  But having their maintenance issues become a for-profit opportunity for a lawyer isn’t one of them.  As for Mr. Wessel, invoking Frederick Douglass is a bit much.

posted by: 1644 on October 23, 2015  6:29pm

Darnell: Landlords with good housing in good neighborhoods don’t want section 8 because: (1) the leases impose requirements above those required of landlords under the landlord-tenant act, (2) the leases only allow eviction for limited reasons, not including expiration of the lease (lapse of time) , making it very hard to get rid of troublesome tenants, and (3) the leases pay below market rate.  No landlord with a good place wants to gets stuck with bad tenants and extra levels of scrutiny for less money.  Heck, HUD cannot even keep up the housing it owns directly with what it pays itself for rent.

posted by: Bradley on October 24, 2015  10:29pm

1644, do you have any data to back up your third point? I’m not saying your wrong, just want to see your evidence.

Landlords (section 8 or otherwise) have a legal obligation to comply with the Puclic Health Code and provide habitable dwellings for their tenants. As Darnell notes, it is clear that Northland did not meet its obligations. A tenant whose landlord does not comply with her or his legal requirements is entitled to relief.

posted by: 1644 on October 25, 2015  11:34am

Bradley: I do not have specific data, just personal experience as a landlord and landlord’s representative.  Upon reflection, the problem may be HUD’s definition of “market”.  HUD looks at large areas, such as New Haven/Meriden, and towns, when property values are hyperlocal.  Within Westville or East Rock, they vary from block to block.  The result of HUD’s averages is what it will pay is above market for bad neighborhoods like Dixwell, but below market for good neighborhoods like East Rock. So, the Dixwell landlord will put up with the extra hassle for the extra money, while the East Rock landlord will get more money for less hassle.  BTW, for a typical tenant whose landlord does not meet his obligations, the relief is to move out without penalty for breaking the lease.
Conn Gen Stat Sec. 47a-12. Breach of agreement by landlord. Tenant’s remedies. (a) If there is a material noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or a noncompliance with section 47a-7 which materially affects health and safety, the tenant may deliver a written notice to the landlord specifying the acts and omissions constituting the breach. If the breach is not remedied within fifteen days after receipt of the notice, the rental agreement shall terminate on such date. If substantially the same act or omission which constituted a prior noncompliance of which notice was given, recurs within six months of the first act of noncompliance, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement upon at least fourteen days written notice specifying (1) the date the breach complained of occurred and (2) the date the tenant intends to terminate the rental agreement by vacating the premises, which date shall be within thirty days of such breach.