Sunday, June 23, 2024

Husam “Sam” Azzam in 2005 at his Porter Square development, where a fire last year led to a court case over rental reimbursements. (Photo: Schuyler Pisha)

Controversial developer and landlord Husam “Sam” Azzam was back in court Monday, this time in a dispute with tenants who felt Azzam should return rent money for the time they spent displaced by a late-night fire July 21, 2009.

Azzam has provoked anger, lawsuits and official rebukes with properties throughout the city, including on Hurley, River and now Beech streets. It is his Porter Square property, in fact, where Beech meets Massachusetts Avenue, that has had the most lasting impact on the city; principals in the struggle over the condominiums proposed around the neighboring St. James Episcopal Church agree the conflict is at least partially a fight over Azzam by proxy. Residents lost the earlier fight and feel burned by the continued presence of what Azzam built to replace the 130-year-old Long Funeral Home.

It was to avoid literal flames that roommates Tom Martin and Jonathan Macone fled their third-floor apartment at 6 Beech St. There was a “smoke smell” in the ceiling from old, overheated wiring, according to Azzam, and firefighters came at about 11 p.m. to douse what was described repeatedly in court as a fire. (The tenants’ attorney, Jeffrey McCormick, said there was a “glow in the ceiling” that wasn’t allowed to burst into open flames.)

The roommates couldn’t be in the apartment as $8,000 in repairs was done for fire damage in the ceiling and water damage throughout the apartment. But the tenants’ and landlord’s stories diverge there, with Azzam saying he could have had the apartment ready Aug. 1 for their last leased month, but didn’t because his tenants told him they had moved on — and the tenants saying they couldn’t return to the apartment because it wasn’t repaired. They’d paid the last month’s rent in advance.

“They weren’t saying to Mr. Azzam that they were moving out because they had some place to go,” McCormick said Monday at Middlesex District Court in Medford. “John Macone ends up sleeping on people’s couches. Tom Martin has to go over to MIT and beg them to help him find a place to stay … Mr. Martin said it wound up costing him another $1,200 to go live at MIT for a month.”

The attorney also accused Azzam of stringing his clients along, promising them a refund for several weeks before suddenly rejecting the idea.

McCormick was seeking double damages, attorney fees and reimbursement for lost possessions under Chapter 93A of Massachusetts General Laws on consumer protection. Azzam balked at that, pointing out the tenants were under one lease, but McCormick told Judge Sabita Singh, “They’re not married — they’re just tenants.”

At one point Azzam suggested it wasn’t him on the hook for any award to the tenants, but his company, Cambridge Management Inc.

The company was defunct, McCormick reminded him, dissolved in 2007 for lack of fees paid to the state.

Azzam seemed to blame that on paperwork going to an old address.

Singh did not say by when she would decide the case.

Update: A lawsuit over the Beech Street property continued and was won by neighbors, then stymied by Azzam’s protracted bankruptcy, a neighbor says. A sentence above was altered to reflect that it’s the presence of the building, not a loss in court, that bothers neighbors.