Suit awards eviction damages to Eco Village tenants

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

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/24/2021 2:53:13 PM

A handful of former Walden Eco Village residents were awarded damages directly related to their abrupt eviction from Garland Way in Peterborough this past December, according to a court order dated May 19. It is a milestone in a lawsuit some of the site’s 25 former tenants brought forward against landlord Akhil Garland, his company, Utopia Living LLC, and landowning entity the Garland Family Trust, soon after the Town of Peterborough ordered the eviction upon discovering a number of permit and safety violations on site.

The site was comprised of rental cottages as well as smaller “casitas,” or tiny houses, whose tenants accessed kitchen and bathroom facilities in a separate, communal building. Peterborough officials determined that eight of 15 total rental units were missing building permits, and other permitted structures were operating beyond their permitted use during the town’s December inspection of the site. Garland initially applied to subdivide and construct more residences on the site last summer, which prompted the inspection. The subdivision application is still in process, as the Planning Board was still waiting on requested items from the applicants as of mid-May.

Since the lawsuit’s initial filing, Garland’s defense successfully brought the Town of Peterborough into the lawsuit as a third party. Six tenants are currently represented in the suit after some former tenants dropped out and others formally joined in, tenant lawyer Jason Bielagus said. Garland as an individual was removed from the lawsuit in a May 5 order, but Bielagus said he still has the opportunity to file further testimony to justify Garland’s inclusion as an individual, as well as to “pierce the corporate veil,” to demonstrate that Garland is the responsible party, rather than the trust and LLC that remain in the suit.

Last week’s $5,829 in eviction-related damages (lost wages, moving expenses, kennel fees) were awarded to the four named plaintiffs who appeared at a hearing to support the offer of proof, according to the order.

In the order, Judge Diane Nicolosi wrote that, so far, it’s clear that Garland “knew or should have known that the use for which he rented the units was not allowed.” However, “it also appears that the Town must have known about the residential year-round use given the longstanding occupancy by tenants who registered vehicles and pets… in leasing and seeking to further develop the property, it appears he was not being intentionally deceptive or surreptitious about the use,” she wrote.

Bielagus said he was heartened by the court’s decision to grant an attachment, or a lien on the defendant’s property, in the instance that the plaintiffs win their case, as included in the May 19 order. “It shows that the court believes we’re probably going to win,” he said.

The plaintiffs are still pursuing class action status, Bielagus said. They still seek to determine what’s due to residents who were on site during the years leading up to the eviction, “where people were renting something that was supposed to be lawful but wasn’t,” he said. A hearing on the class action status is scheduled for July 1 at 1:30 p.m.


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