Real Estate Policy Needs Repair


To the Editors of The Crimson:

As tenants at 22-24 Prescott Street, a Harvard Real Estate-run building, we are not optimistic that the removal of Hunneman and Company, Inc., as managers of many of Harvard's real estate properties will result in better services for tenants or greater responsiveness to tenant concerns. In our experience Hunneman's record as a landlord was a rather sorry one of neglect and mismanagement. At the same time, however, our dealings with Harvard Real Estate have shown them to be arrogant and at least as unresponsive and mismanaged as Hunneman.

Since the fall of 1978 we have been strenuously engaged in trying to improve conditions in the building, which had seriously deteriorated in the decade since Harvard purchased the property. Our efforts have been met with firm resistance on the part of the landlord: they responded to our report that the building was in serious disrepair by petitioning the Cambridge Rent Board to increase our rents by 35 to 90%. Only after the Cambridge Health Department cited over 130 health code violations in our apartments and the building did Hunneman and Harvard Real Estate begin to make repairs--with the implict threat that they would be taken to court if they did not make the repairs. At first Harvard Real Estate used Hunneman as a whipping boy for past mistakes and current problems: tenants were told that Harvard Real Estate would set aright all the mistakes (shoddy repairs and maintenance or none at all) made by Hunneman. We soon discovered, though, that Harvard Real Estate made the important decisions about the building, including the petition for the increase. Hunneman implemented Harvard Real Estate's decisions.

With Hunneman no longer on the scene, Harvard Real Estate's role has become even clearer. In the last month we have found it necessary to engage an attorney to assure that Harvard Real Estate would abide by the terms of an agreement which tenants had reached with them about staging in the rent increase. Moreover, we have had to report to the Rent Board that Harvard Real Estate has not completed a major repair to the building which the Rent Board ordered them to do before the rent increase could be collected. Harvard Real Estate struck back by demanding that tenants pay a new, higher rent after the Rent Board confirmed that Harvard had not completed the job.

At each step of the way we have encountered intransigence on Harvard Real Estate's part; they continued to put us off until we convinced them on each occasion of the seriousness of our concerns, and that has meant in general recourse to the law. Rather than celebrate the dawn of a new age in landlord-tenant relations, we soberly suggest that the operations of Harvard Real Estate be scruitinized by the Cambridge community at large. Their policy is plainly based on maximizing profits, making repairs and improvements only when they must. Harvard Real Estate is of course a corporate entity within Harvard University, and so Harvard Real Estate's policy of increasing their returns on their properties in Cambridge must be seen as Harvard University's policy. Harvard Real Estate tried to shift the blame for mistakes downstairs, to their managing agent, Hunneman. We recommend that the actual decision-makers, Harvard Real Estate and Harvard University, be held accountable for their policies and actions. Michael H. Turk   Lorraine L. Iritano   Leo Manis   Howard Ramseur   Ellinor Pedersen   Herbert E. Nipson   Denis P. Chabaneix   Doreen M. Scott


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