According to a recent article in the Patch, the Norwood Police will be filing criminal charges against the landlord/owner of rental property on Sturtevant Avenue because tenants have been involved with marijuana.
Henry Samuels (age 24) and his mother, Lashauna Peltway (age 40) live in apartment number one at 15 Sturtevant Avenue. Last August the police arrested Samuels at the apartment for selling marijuana to "two school age kids." According to the article, at the time of the arrest, the police "put [the landlord] on notice that further action from them was required in regards to eviction of tenants." (Does this mean that the police officially told them to evict the offenders? If that is the actual notice given, it is pretty weak.) The story also implies that since that arrest the police have been investigating Samuels.
The article states that the police executed a search warrant at the apartment, but it does not say when this event took place. We may assume from the June 7 date of the article that it was recent. During the search, Peltway was present, but Samuels was not. Both, however, will be charged in the Dedham District Court with Possession of Marijuana with intent to Distribute "based on the drugs seized." In addition, Peltway will be charged with "being the Keeper of a Disorderly House."
The article correctly cites the statute that the police will use against the landlord as Chapter 139, section 20, but misquotes the statute's wording. In criminal law, the true language of a statute is crucial because that language must be applied when the court decides whether to issue a criminal complaint.
The applicable terminology is: "Whoever knowingly lets premises owned by him, or under his control, for the purpose of . . . the illegal keeping, sale or manufacture of controlled substances . . . or knowingly permits such premises, while under his control, to be used for such purposes, or after notice of any such use omits to take all reasonable measures to eject therefrom the persons occupying the same as soon as it can lawfully be done, shall be punished . . . ." (emphasis added).
So a prosecution under this section has three options. By proof that the landlord leased the premises for the purpose of illegal drug activity, or by proof that the the landlord knowingly allowed it to be used for such purposes, or by proof that the landlord failed to take reasonable measures to evict the tenants after being notified of the drug activity.
The first option is unlikely. It is inconceivable that the landlord leased the apartment to Peltway for the purpose of marijuana sales. The second two appear to be somewhat easier to prosecute. If a landlord is put on notice of illegal activity, and the landlord does not take reasonable measures to evict the offenders, the landlord may be in violation of the statute. There are, however, many questions to consider.
Who must give "due notice? The police? If so, is it enough for the police to describe allegations against a tenant to a landlord? Is it fair to give the police the power to force the commencement of eviction proceedings based upon hearsay? What kind of evidence should the police have to justify their giving "due notice."
What form of notice is required? Is written notice necessary, or may the police just stop by and tell a landlord that the rental property is being used for illegal purposes? Should the notice contain specific allegations of continuous crimes? If so, I would think that it should be in writing and it should give specifics.
The statute is entitled "Aiding or Permitting Nuisance." Nuisance implies ongoing activity. How much illegal activity is necessary? Would one event be enough? Two? Was Samuels convicted as a result of the 2012 arrest? How did the evidence recovered in the raid support charges against both Samuels and his mother?
How much time is reasonable to evict a tenant in situations like this? Does the law of landlord/tenant provide for an expedited process? Who else lived in the apartment? Were there young children living there too? If so, should they be the subject of an eviction under these circumstances? Had the landlord done anything in reaction to receiving the notice in 2012? Would a good faith warning be enough to avoid a chapter 139 charge?
As usual, the language of this law leaves many questions unanswered. I expect that they will be addressed by one of the excellent clerk magistrates at the Dedham District Court and therefore be examined carefully, professionally, and with fairness to all parties.
The landlord would be well advised to have an experienced criminal defense attorney with him/her at that stage.