Court denies temporary relief for Eco Village tenants, class action suit continues

  • The now-vacant Walden Eco Village in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/17/2021 5:15:26 PM

Emergency relief will not be granted to the former tenants of Peterborough’s Walden Eco Village, a judge ruled last week, but the longer-term class action suit continues.

Thirteen former tenants signed a class action lawsuit at the end of December against Akhil Garland, his business Utopia Living LLC, and the Garland Family Land Trust, of which Garland is a trustee. They sought emergency relief in the form of speedy returns of security deposits, costs associated with moving and emergency housing, and assistance in finding new rental housing at a hearing on Jan. 7.

The suit came after the Town of Peterborough issued a cease and desist order to Garland on Dec. 11, which called for the eviction of the property’s 25 tenants by Dec. 16. Peterborough issued the order after discovering safety hazards within the property’s 15 rental units during an inspection prompted by Garland’s proposal to subdivide and sell the land. The property’s nine casitas, or tiny houses, had never been permitted, and its seven cottages were being used in excess of their permits, as previously reported.

The request for a speedier return of security deposits is already a moot point as almost all had been returned by the hearing, Judge Diane Nicolisi wrote in a court order dated Feb.10 (the remaining security deposits were returned later in the month, the tenant’s lawyer Jason Bielagus confirmed).

The recovery of costs associated with moving, emergency housing, and the additional costs of having to rent a more expensive living space have the option of being rewarded later in the case, Nicolisi wrote, and that she didn’t believe the plaintiff’s justifications for emergency relief held up, because they required willful conduct on Garland’s part. “At this stage, the plaintiffs have not adequately demonstrated that Mr. Garland was aware of the defects in the property and a possible compliance action on the part of the town that would lead to a cease and desist letter and eviction,” she wrote. “It appears Mr. Garland was as surprised by the cease and desist letter as the tenants were, and he is in the early stages of contesting the Town’s legal position.”

“[Garland] intentionally constructed the dwelling units on the premises. In so doing, [he] knew, or should have known, that he had not first applied for and obtained permits to do so,” Bielagus wrote on Feb. 12, in an objection to one of the defendant’s earlier motions. “[Garland] knew, or should have known, he did not build the dwelling units to code. Defendants knew, or should have known, the dwelling units were not maintained as required by the ordinances and code of the Town of Peterborough,” he wrote.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Bielagus said of the decision on Wednesday, but that he might file a motion to reconsider certain parts of the ruling. Garland knew, or should have known, that he hadn’t obtained permits for 15 structures he built on the property, Bielagus said, and rented them anyway. “A willful act isn’t just an act like changing the locks. A willful act can be a willful inaction, like when you know there’s a problem with the heat,” but do nothing, according to case law, he said.

A hearing on a petition to attach is scheduled for April 7, Bielagus said, a process that he hopes will ensure the tenants can recover financial damages if there’s an eventual ruling in their favor.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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