Harvard Didn't Violate Rent Law, Board Rules

Harvard Real Estate did not violate the city's rent control laws by leasing a Harvard Square apartment for commercial use, the Cambridge Rent Control Board (CRCB) rules last night.

The five-member body decided that property leased to the J. August Clothing Store is not subject to a law that forbids the apartment's use for business purposes. The 1979 ordinance requires that landlords lease rent-controlled units only to residential tenants.

Douglas Baron, the shop's owner, testified recently that he has stored merchandise in Apartment 309 at 1306 Mass. Ave. since 1977--two years before the law was passed. Last night the CRCB decided this property falls under a "grandfather clause" that exempts from rent control all property used for business purposes before the 1979 law took effect.

Cambridge's stringent rent control law sets the rents of about 17,000 residential properties at levels below the market rate.

Last night's ruling overturned a 1984 decision subjecting the apartment to these restrictions.

According to a report by Deputy Counsel PatrickDeTemple, Baron leased the property from HarvardReal Estate (HRE) "for office and storage purpose"until 1982. At that time he signed a new five-yearlease which said he would use the apartment as aresidence. However, he continued to store goodsthere. The board did not discuss why the propertywas later leased for residential use.

"If it is offered residentially, doesn't itcome back under rent control?" asked Michael H.Turk, a founder of the Cambridge Union of Tenants.

CRCB ruled in 1984 that, based on testimonyfrom Harvard and Baron, the apartment was beingused residentially. In 1983, Baron told HREattorneys that he was not using the propertycommercially, according to documents considered inthe 1984 hearing. However, Baron said during therecent investigation that he has been using theproperty for his business since 1977.

"Someone lied," CRCB Chair Ellen Semonoff said.

Several rent control activists who attended themeeting said the Board should have advocated legalaction against Baron.

"I think a perjury case would only get off theground if the Board recommended it," Turk said.

In a related case last August, CRCB held thatHarvard had violated rent control ordinances byrenting apartment 209 in the same building toFerranti-Dege. The camera dealer had first rentedfrom Harvard in 1985, Turk said. In that case theBoard did not uphold the hearing examiner'srecommendation that Harvard be legally prosecuted