Teardown ‘unoccupied’? The resident disagrees – and has fought over 88 Holworthy St. for years
The owner of 88 Holworthy St. plans to tear down the boarded-up, falling-apart 1872 structure and build a pair of two-family homes, creating apartments to rent. On a demolition application for the Strawberry Hill property that would pave the way for his project, Stephen Sillari listed the property as “currently unoccupied.”
But Ferahnaz Kahyaoglu lives at 88 Holworthy – and Sillari knows it, if only from some of the several lawsuits she has filed in recent years, since moving into the home in 2012. (The latest, in which she challenged Sillari’s ownership of the two-apartment home, was rejected by a Land Court judge on Monday. Kahyaoglu said she is appealing.)
That was long before Sillari owned the property, and thousands of pages in legal documents and conflicting stories from each party reflect a situation that is far from simple; Kahyaoglu has had legal run-ins with each of the three owners during her residency.
Kahyaoglu, born in Istanbul, was certified as a medical doctor from Turkey’s Cerrahpasa Medical School and in 2004 got a master of public health degree from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. On a 2020 alumni week page, she is described as a physician, public health specialist, writer, health reporter, instructor and researcher.
The property was not in much better shape in 2012, when she moved in. Her then landlord, Abul Maksud Sayied, was a “longtime friend” from Harvard, she said, and did not ask for rent. Instead, she would pay utilities only and act as his caretaker – and the Monday finding by judge Howard Speicher agrees that while Sayied lived in Apt. 2, after they “developed a personal relationship, [Kahyaoglu] lived in both Apt. 1 and Apt. 2.” Sayied promised her that when he died, the property or an equivalent value would go to her in his will, Kahyaoglu said in person and over email.
That is where details of the situation get complicated, and contradictory.
After seven years of cohabitation at 88 Holworthy, Sayied became ill with cancer and moved to Texas to live with his son, Omar, leaving Kahyaoglu behind, according to court documents.
On March 27, 2019, five months before he died at 86, Sayied gave the property to his son for $1. The son sold the property to Sillari for $825,000 some 3.5 months later, on July 12, 2019; the sale was recorded with the county’s Registry of Deeds on Sept. 24, 2019, which is 19 days after the father died.
Sillari and the architect in charge of the redesign at 88 Holworthy, Dan Anderson, have launched a website and held multiple neighborhood meetings to gain support for the project.
A Planning Board hearing set for Tuesday will take up his plans; Kahyaoglu has asked to speak and probe Sillari’s claim to ownership, as well as her own future as a resident.
“He’s harassing me to try to get me to move out,” she said.
Kahyaoglu alleges that Sillari has thrown out her personal belongings, declined to fix more than 200 health violations and boarded up areas that contain her possessions. Sillari forwarded all questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment; but there is a record responding that Kahyaoglu denied entrance to fix the violations – to which she said his only request has been to check the smoke detectors, which the city had recently said were in perfect shape. On Sept. 14, a city inspector found a toilet that requires manual flushing with a bucket of water, rampant water staining on ceilings, mouse droppings, roof holes being inhabited by raccoons, and other sanitary violations. Assessors describe the structure’s overall condition as “very poor.”
But before it was Sillari issuing a no-fault eviction in February, it was the son, Omar Sayied, who sent Kahyaoglu a notice to quit, and in July 2019, she responded similarly: by filing a Complaint for Protection from Harassment against the son through the Massachusetts Trial Court. It was approved and then revoked within a week, as the court found that “the purpose of [his] communication is not to harass.”
Kahyaoglu represents herself legally, and has filed cases in Housing Court and Appeals Court as well in Land Court, and against Abul Maksud Sayied as well as his son and Sillari, alleging that “Abul Sayied coerced her ‘to domestic servitude.’” She describes a situation of slavery in which she was required to be his sole caretaker and was isolated from her outside life, begging the question as to why she would refer to him as a companion.
A number of signs apparently sponsored by housing rights’ organization City Life/Vida Urbana decorate 88 Holworthy, claiming, “Stephen Sillari’s actions constitute unlawful, reckless, malice against the tenants that he fraudulently applied to the City to Demolish this property by signing it as ‘unoccupied property’ … This is a crime!” But City Life/Vida Urbana did not respond to requests for comment.
Lacking a will
Beyond the fact that the house is not “currently unoccupied,” and that there has been a wintertime and pandemic ban on evictions in place in Cambridge, not much else seems to support Kahyaoglu’s claims of ownership.
The Land Court judge, Speicher, said her 41-page complaint “fails to convey to the court any factually defined claim showing an entitlement to relief.”
Kahyaoglu has failed to produce the original or a copy of the will she said gave her 88 Holworthy, and “has been unable to inform the court how she knows such a will exists, or what happened to it,” the judge said. It would be irrelevant anyway: “Leaving one’s property to someone in a will does not obligate the testator to retain the property until death,” Speicher wrote. Because her latest lawsuit asked only compensatory and punitive damages and had nothing to do with a right, title or interest to the property, it is even beyond the jurisdiction of the Land Court, leaving the judge literally nothing to adjudicate.
A final claim by Kahyaoglu, but one that would never be judged in court, is that Sillari spends most of his time at a house in Plymouth and his residency in the neighborhood is false. (He is on record for owning 85 Holworthy St., but there is no residency requirement to do business in Cambridge.) Kahyaoglu’s next-door neighbor, Francis Bingham, said he sees Sillari around the neighborhood frequently, though.
“It’s a great neighborhood,” Bingham said, “but it’s got the mix of old Cambridge and new Cambridge.”
- The Planning Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting can be attended via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.