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Harvard's Real Estate Agency Denies Charges of High Rent, Poor Housing

Officials of Harvard Real Estate. Inc., the University's property-management organization, yesterday denied charges that the company was unethical in its failure to pass on savings from lower property tax assessments to tenants.

The denial came in response to Harvard Tenant Union claims this week that although the Cambridge Assessor's Office granted Harvard Real Estate lower assessments, the company increased rent on the grounds that property taxes had increased.

"Harvard has not been paying the increases in property taxes that it has passed on to us." Michael H. Turk. coordinator of the union, said Monday. Turk said the discrepency amounts to about $500,000.

Sally Zeckhauser, president of Harvard Real Estate, denied yesterday that the company had acted improperly. "This is only a rent board issue. We expect the rent board to make a fair and equitable decision," Zeckhauser said. "All we do is follow the rules in a system," she added.

"It seems there is an obligation to lower rents or prevent future increases when an abatement is given, but in fairness to the landlords, utility costs have gone through the roof." Kevin T. McDevitt, principle assessor for the city of Cambridge, said yesterday. "Taxes landlords must pay have also gone up a great deal, despite the abatements," he added.

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Tenants also charged Monday that Harvard Real Estate inadequately maintains its rental housing. "It's our right to live in decent, well run, and well maintained housing." Meredith Seammell, one of the organizers of the group, said Monday.

"I've seen a daily deterioration of services under Harvard Real Estate for three years." Robert Epstein, a Ware Street resident, said at the Monday meeting.

Peter Stanton, executive director of the Cambridge rent control board, said yesterday Harvard has not had exceptional maintenance deficiencies. "Harvard buildings do not seem to be less well maintained than other rental buildings," Stanton said.

Zeckhauser denied the tenant unions charges, adding "We answer specific problems. General feelings don't help us to repair specific problems."

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