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A housing dispute is destined for mediation this week after a Hartford Superior Court judge handed down one of the largest awards
In a scathing rebuke of a man who worked on behalf of Adar Real Estate, Hartford Superior Court Judge Grant H. Miller Jr. awarded $240,000 to former tenant Roger Chimney after he was told he and his three children temporarily needed to stay elsewhere so exterminators could use chemicals to kill bedbugs and cockroaches. Chimney found almost all of his belongings were gone
– Cohn Birnbaum & Shea P.C.
An appeal of Miller’s decision will be handled in mediation instead of the state Appellate Court.
Miller found the landlord’s actions were retaliation for Chimney filing a complaint with the city of Hartford about those bedbugs and cockroaches.
The two sides differed on what happened to Chimney’s $6,300 in personal items that were missing from his apartment and never located. The two sides disputed whether Chimney, who used to be homeless, was planning to move out anyway, and whether the building superintendent believed he already left.
What is undisputed, though, is a text message from Teddy Held, who is described as an associate of Adar’s 93-year-old owner, Jack Breitkopf. The text, which included a photo of a dumpster, read: “Your stuff waiting; value 35 bucks, maybe.”
Miller wrote in his Dec. 27 decision that he’s never seen such disregard for the law during his 38 years as a trial lawyer and judge.
“During those years, he [Miller] has seen countless acts of callousness, mean-spiritedness and arrogance,” Miller wrote. “None of that bad behavior comes close to offending me as much as Mr. Held’s decision to flout the law and throw Mr. Chimney out of his home with no regard whatsoever for his rights, after which he felt the need to inflict more mental distress by sending a text message, which implicitly told the plaintiff ‘I threw you and your junk out in the street and you can’t do anything about it.'”
Housing law experts in Hartford and Connecticut said Chimney’s case is unique given the amount of money awarded and the persistence of an attorney working pro bono.
“What was unusual about this case is that the tenant actually had a lawyer who was willing to commit the time to bring an affirmative counterclaim,” said attorney Thomas Farrell of Hinckley, Allen & Snyder.
Farrell, an attorney specializing in housing matters who is not involved in Chimney’s case, added that “bringing a pro bono counterclaim against a landlord is expensive and time consuming and it’s a commitment most attorneys will not or can’t take on.”
While not specifically citing Chimney’s case, Farrell said tenants are often “afraid to complain [about conditions] for fear of retaliation. That is a general fear among tenants.”
Jan Chiaretto, executive director of the Wethersfield-based Statewide Legal Services, said Chimney’s award “shows the judicial system is responsive to people, no matter who they are or where they are from. This rights a wrong.”
Chiaretto referred Chimney’s case to attorney Peter Appleton, owner of Appleton & Appleton in Hartford.
Miller awarded $100,000 for emotional distress and then—citing the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA)—doubled it to $200,000. The total award is $240,500, including damages for the loss of Chimney’s property.
Adar appealed to the Appellate Court, but both sides told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday they are optimistic Feb. 24’s mediation hearing with retired Judge Robert L. Holzberg’s, of Pullman & Comley, will resolve the matter.
Appleton agreed the award is on the high end, but added “there were compelling facts and the liability was strong. I am, though, optimistic [about having an agreement] at the mediation hearing.”
Attorney Melvin Simon of Cohn Birnbaum & Shea, who is handling the appeal for Adar, said Miller has “no authority” under the CUTPA to award for emotional distress, let alone double that award. Simon added that Appleton originally suggested Chimney get $5,000 for emotional distress, “which was a reasonable request.” Similarly, solo attorney Robert Shluger, who represented Adar prior to Simon coming on board, said he “was surprised at the amount of damages. I looked at this, at the worst, amounting to the mistaken belief that someone had moved and vacated and that someone stole this guy’s stuff. No one knows who stole it.”