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Somerville Rent Control Ends; Tenants Await Court Decision

An ordinance ending rent control in Somerville went into effect Thursday, although four Somerville residents are awaiting action in Middlesex Superior Court on a suit to retain rent control.

John L. Mason, attorney for Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services Inc., field a complaint Tuesday for the four residents alleging the city has not hired the additional 12 state sanitary code enforcers required by the November 30 ordinance.

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The suit also claims apartments of all four plaintiffs violate the state sanitary code, even though their landlords are demanding large rent increases.

Thomas F. August, mayor of Somerville, said yesterday that contrary to the allegations of the suit, the city had hired all 12 sanitary code enforcers by Thursday. Hearings on the suit reopen March 8.

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Norman E. Campbell, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said yesterday he has lived in the same apartment for 17 years with only minor price increases, but that his landlord was raising his rent from $184 to $284 per month on March 1. "I'd rather go out and buy a house with that kind of money," Campbell said.

No figures were available on how many Somerville landlords had raised rent.

The Somerville City Council voted 6-4 on November 30 to rescind its nine-year-old ordinance accepting the rent control provisions of the state legislature's Rent and Eviction Control Act of 1970. Cambridge and Brookline are the only Massachusetts cities that still have full rent control laws. Boston has a partial rent control system.

Under the old law, rents in Somerville were frozen at 1969 prices, but landlords could petition the rent control board for minor adjustments as costs increased. August said the board never allowed rents to increase more than 7 per cent.

Cambridge officials said yesterday the Somerville action may affect the Cambridge housing market, but that it will not influence members of the Cambridge City Council, whose approval is necessary to abolish rent control. "Somerville residents will move to adjoining communities," City Councilor David A. While said yesterday.

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