A Wooster Square woman in an ongoing battle with her landlord will have to pay an extra $150 a month in rent — more than she’d like, less than the landlord sought.
That was the result of a decision made this week at a meeting of New Haven’s Fair Rent Commission (FRC).
The body voted to allow landlord Marc Nadeau to raise his tenant Pamela Parisi’s monthly rent from $1,050 to $1,200. Nadeau had proposed a rent of $1,250 per month; Parisi requested $1,100.
Before making their decision, the commissioners waded into a dispute that involved a promise to vacuum common areas in return for lowered rent, what prices renters should pay these days in gentrifying Wooster Square … and a years-long battle over whether a 66-year-old woman should remain in the building. Whether she’s wrecking a valuable investment. Or whether her landlord is wrecking her life.
Squaring Off: Guilford vs. Yale Law
The dispute centered on an apartment in a duplex at 14-16 Lyon St. The building has four apartments. Nadeau, a real estate appraiser and former architect and developer from Guilford, bought the property 35 years ago for $180,000. It was last appraised in 2018 at $433,100 and has a $531,695 replacement value, according to the city’ appraiser’s database.
The tenant, Pamela Parisi, told the commissioners that the proposed rent increase was just the latest effort by landlord Marc Nadeau to force her out.
Nadeau maintained that the hike was justified because Parisi failed to complete a series of maintenance tasks, including watering flowers in front of the building and vacuuming the hallways, that the two parties agreed to in exchange for a lower rent. He also argued $1,250 a month is still well below market rate.
Nadeau’s attorney Steven D. Jacobs, told the commissioners Tuesday evening that the two parties had initially agreed to a monthly rate of $1,250. Then Parisi requested a discount in exchange for performing a series of upkeep tasks for the duplex, a clause that was included in the original lease.
Nadeau testified that Parisi had failed to complete any of these tasks, justifying his decision to raise the rent.
“What she was supposed to do lasted about a week and a half,” he maintained.
Nadeau testified that his proposed rate increase to $1,250 was still below market value based on a rental survey he conducted of nearby properties. His survey included similarly sized nearby apartments in the Wooster Square neighborhood. He found that these units ranged from a low of $1,250 to a high of $1,600, with the rent averaging at just over $1,400 per month.
Tenant Parisi’s attorney, Yale law prof J.L. Pottenger, Jr., testified that Nadeau’s proposed rent increase was a targeted attempt to force Parisi out of tenancy.
Yale law student Adam Kinkley, one of three clinic interns who assisted Pottenger, pointed out that Nadeau had tried and failed to evict Parisi five times in housing court. He informed her he was increasing her rate to $1,400 the day after the final case was dismissed this past May.
Kinkley also noted that Nadeau had not made any attempt to increase the rent of any of his other tenants in the building.
“This is becoming a circus, just like last time!” exclaimed Nadeau, referencing a prior informal hearing.
Parisi testified with the help of law intern Casey Gilfoil, who walked her through a series of questions. Parisi said that she had never agreed to any rent higher than $1,050. She maintained she had “absolutely” performed the maintenance tasks she had agreed to in the 2018 lease. Given her roughly $2,000 monthly income, she stated, there was no way she would be able to afford the higher rate, which would amount to 60 percent of her earnings.
Student Keith Woolridge presented her closing argument, positing that Nadeau’s survey was void because the “comparable” units he had presented included amenities such as in-unit laundry and off-street parking.
Further, he contested Nadeau’s assertion that the apartment is 700 square feet. Parisi, who has experience laying floors, had measured the floor space, and found it to be just 563 square feet. By Woolridge’s estimation, the market rate for comparably sized units in the area is about $1,100.
“Because of the unfortunate difficult relationship historically between the tenant and the landlord, and because of the background of retaliation and evictions, Ms. Parisi has not had the quiet enjoyment of her premises that normally comes with a leaseholder arrangement,” concluded Pottenger. “That’s why we think the whole history should be explained for the commission, and why this rent increase is not fair and equitable and the price is excessive.”
All three commissioners agreed that the fact that the apartment’s size remained disputed was a critical missing detail, but declined to pursue producing an official measurement.
Commissioner Javier Cabrera said that some increase in rent was appropriate. He acknowledged that settling on a number was challenging without knowing the square footage.
He said, though, that from a landlord’s perspective, an increase of only $50 after a year and a half of tenancy was meager. He proposed that the rent be increased to $1,200, less than Nadeau’s requested $1,250 but more than Parisi’s $1,100 value.
Commissioners Lizz McCrea and Wendy Gamba agreed, and the $1,200 rent was approved by a 3-0 vote.
The Backdrop: Courts, Cops
Tuesday night’s hearing was but the latest of a years-long dispute. The relationship between Parisi and Nadeau has been toxic from the start, and nearly every event in the saga is disputed by both sides.
On July 21, 2018, Parisi and Nadeau both signed a lease for the second-floor apartment for a term of 12 months, starting on Aug. 1, 2018. The lease stipulated that the “tenant, in exchange for a reduction in rent from $1,200 to $1,050, agrees to vacuum the hallways … weekly, wash foyers bi-monthly and water flowers in front of the building as needed.” Parisi, who required some extra time to vacate her previous residence, moved into the apartment on Aug. 19, 2018.
The movers Parisi hired in August 2018 damaged the second-floor banister and a section of plaster ceiling, which became an early point of tension between the two parties. Over the next 10 months, recurring conflicts over subsequent alleged damages to the apartment came to a head when Nadeau attempted to evict Parisi in June 2019.
Over the next 11 months, Nadeau would try and fail to evict Parisi in housing court five separate times. He withdrew three of the cases; ,the remaining two were dismissed.
Following the fourth case last December, Nadeau filed a civil suit seeking $15,000 in damages to the duplex. That case remains in litigation.
In the lead-up to the expiration of Parisi’s original 12-month lease, Nadeau signed a new lease with a new tenant at a monthly rate of $1,250, set to start on Aug. 1, 2019
Parisi, a protected tenant under state law because of her age and health condition, declined to vacate the apartment. So Parisi still lives in the apartment on a month-to-month lease, and the proposed lease for a new tenant was terminated before it began.
In the ongoing civil suit, Nadeau accused Parisi of violating the terms of the lease by not maintaining the building as she agreed to, damaging the unit and common areas of the building, and interfering with the subsequent lease that he had already signed with the incoming tenant. The case has yet to be heard.
After Nadeau informed Parisi of the increased rent but two weeks before the complaint was filed to the Fair Rent Commission, a police officer responded to an incident between the two parties on May 26.
According to the police report, just after noon an officer was dispatched to the Lyon Street duplex for a reported landlord/tenant conflict after receiving a call from Parisi.
According to Parisi, Nadeau came to check on the apartment that morning and began “yelling at her to move items she had left in the common hallway.”
The situation escalated to a shouting match. Nadeau again demanded she move the items. Parisi retorted by saying, “So what if I don’t?”
In response, Nadeau reportedly began to chase Parisi up the stairs. She ran into her apartment and locked the door. She told police that Nadeau continued to bang on her door in a threatening manner, saying “I’ll go to jail.”
Eventually, Nadeau left the premises. After speaking with both parties, the police officer called to the scene concluded that no further action need be taken.
On May 14 of this year, the day after the fifth eviction case was dismissed, Nadeau hand-delivered a letter to Parisi stating that her rent would be increasing from $1,050 to $1,250, effective June 1.
The letter prompted Parisi’s attorney to file a complaint to the Fair Rent Commission, seeking respite from what she called an exorbitant rent increase aimed to force her out of tenancy. Tuesday’s ruling was the first resolution of the series of legal disputes.
Landlord: She’s “Destroying The Building”
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” said Nadeau, who has been a New Haven landlord for decades.
He recalled receiving Parisi’s initial request in 2018 for a lower rent.
“I was kind of stuck,” Nadeau said. “She played this ‘poor me’ card, so I acquiesced … to take $200 off a month of your rent. She ended up paying $1,050 a month for a very nice apartment.
“Well, what was a very nice apartment. Ten-and-a-half foot ceilings, refinished antique floors, acid wash brick walls, an updated kitchen, an updated bathroom, new windows.
“It was a nice space. It’s not anymore.”
Beyond the damage to the ceiling and bannister that Parisi accepted responsibility for when she was moving in, Nadeau cited other damages: a broken toilet, a broken stove door, a shower, a bathtub. Nadeau said that after receiving an abnormally high water bill for the duplex in January and inspecting the other units in the building, he requested to inspect Parisi’s apartment. After multiple refusals, he said, he finally found the source of the problem: a bathtub faucet in her apartment that had been leaking for over a year, wasting over 22,000 gallons of water. He said that Parisi let the plumber into the apartment to fix it only two weeks ago.
Nadeau estimated that the total amount he has had to pay out of pocket in damages as a result of Parisi’s negligence is in the ballpark of $10,000.
Nadeau said in an interview that he was particularly frustrated by how he was portrayed by Parisi’s attorneys in Tuesday’s hearing.
“This person continues to destroy the apartment and the building, and I can’t get her out,” said Nadeau. “What really upset me last night is they portrayed me as being a mean and vicious person.
“I’m going to tell you how mean I am. Before [Parisi] moved in, she wanted to have the apartment painted. We painted the apartment for her. And when she showed up the first day she said, ‘Oh, this color doesn’t work for me.’ The color she picked out! So we repainted it again. I mean, who would do that?
“We wanted her to be happy. I was trying to give her a break by [raising her rent to $1,250,] which was the original number that she agreed to [in 2018.] Because I’ve asked for that, I’m the bad guy.”
Nevertheless, both Nadeau and his attorney Jacobs claimed victory after the commissioners voted to allow a rent of $1,200.
“Last night’s shit show?” quipped Jacobs. “I think it went well. I think they got the message that we were effectively restoring the rent amount that was originally agreed upon. This is [valid for a] couple of reasons: One, that the increased rent still leaves her paying a below market rent. And two, if she failed to perform her obligations under the lease, then why is that unreasonable? It’s acceptable to me. It might be somewhat of a disappointment to my client, but all things considered, it’s a preferable income to finding in favor of the tenant.”
Tenant: He’s “Making My Life Miserable”
Parisi said she formerly ran a company in the tourism industry in New York, but was forced to leave. She transitioned to selling items online as her primary source of income since moving to New Haven.
“This isn’t a simple case of a landlord trying to raise the rent,” said Parisi. “This is a case of a landlord with deep pockets using his unlimited money to harass me and get me out of his apartment.”
Parisi disagreed with the two central claims of Nadeau’s argument: That she failed to complete the maintenance tasks she agreed to in the lease. And that $1,250 is a fair price for the apartment.
She admitted that because of preexisting medical conditions, she was unable to carry water down the stairs to water the flowerpots at the front of the building. However, she attested that Nadeau agreed to waive that requirement. She has “for all intents and purposes” completed all of the other tasks throughout her tenancy, she said.
“I not only completed the tasks that I had agreed to, but when I couldn’t complete them, I hired people to do that,” said Parisi. “I have proof from Craigslist and TaskRabbit ads I put up and payments that I made.”
Further, Parisi challenged Nadeau’s claim that $1,250 is a fair price for the apartment . Nadeau cited rents for nearby units around 700 square feet in size in the hearing. Parisi said she measured her unit multiple times and found it to be only 563 square feet.
The size dispute is further complicated by the fact that Nadeau’s original Craigslist posting for the apartment in 2018 claimed that the unit was 770 square feet, not 700, as he testified on Tuesday. Parisi argued that $1,250 per month is an exorbitant rate for a 563-square-foot unit. Even if it was 700 square feet, Nadeau’s analysis is invalid because he compared her unit to nearby alternatives with more amenities, she argued
Nadeau pointed out that the information about the building on the New Haven Online Assessment Database backs up his most recent 700-square foot sizing was correct: By using the city’s numbers and subtracting the hallway that splits the building into two units (which he estimates to be around eight feet wide,) each second-floor unit comes out to a little below 700 square feet. (Pull out your calculator and try it for yourself!)
“He’s made my life miserable for the last year and a half,” said Parisi. “It’s been devastating to a point where I have sought help. I became so depressed over it that I was despondent. I’m new to town, and I have no friends here. I have done nothing to deserve this. I immediately moved into the sphere of influence of someone who acts like he’s not stable. I did not do anything to warrant it.”
Paris said her monthly income is around $2,000. Social Security and retirement payments cover just under $700 of it, she said; her online retail business makes up the rest of that figure. She said the $150 raise in rent means she will now be spending 60 percent of her income on the apartment. However, moving is not an immediate option for her due to the nature of her business and preexisting health conditions that limit her housing options.
“Moving would be devastating for me, both financially and physically,” said Parisi. “I would have to move all the materials for my business into a storage unit and live in a hotel or Airbnb while I looked for another place. It would devastate my business.”
Now, she said, she has no choice but to seek a new place anyway, due to the rent increase.
“I don’t want to stay here,” said Parisi. “I don’t want to deal with this. I’m on senior living lists, and I’m trying to get on others. As soon as the holiday season is over, I’m going to put in more applications.”