The Cambridge Rent Control Board held a fact-finding hearing yesterday to determine whether a Harvard official evaded Cambridge rent control ordinances by pretending to live in a house that she actually rented to other tenants.
Past and current tenants allege that Deane W. Lord, director of information at the Harvard Office of News and Public Affairs, has not inhabited a house she owns at 96 Foster St. for many years.
Nevertheless, they said, she has kept it classified as an "owneroccupied" residence because the city rent control ordinance applies only to buildings whose landlords live elsewhere.
Lord's current tenant, Nieman Fellow Elinor J. Brecher of Louisville, Ky., has claimed in letters to the board that because Lord does not live in the apartment, she broke the law by doubling the rent from $500 to $1000 over the past year.
Under Cambridge law, all rent increases in tenant-occupied houses must remain within a formula set by the board.
The lease Brecher signed included a clause giving Lord access to one of the rooms in the house. By making the room Lord's legal residence, that clause enabled her to make the rent increase without going before the board.
The penalties Lord faces if found in violation of Cambridge law include criminal prosecution. A rent board finding against Lord could also open the way for Brecher to bring suit.
Brecher said several tenants in 1986 and previous years paid a total of $500 monthly, but that she pays $1000. Most of the previous tenants rented rooms within the house, and did not sign leases.
All of the house's utilities are listed in Lord's name. Lord is a registered Cambridge voter and her car is registered under the Foster St. address.
Hearing examiner James Packer said he sought to determine exactly when Lordoccupied the property and what a fair rent for theunit should be.
At the hearing, where she was represented byattorney Cornelius Sullivan. Lord testified that96 Foster St. had been her primary residence since1960. Two other witnesses spoke on her behalf.
Lord said she had rented bedrooms and kitchenprivileges to tenants until 1986. But she said shehad since changed the status of the house bymaking some repairs and renting it to a singletenant.
The information director said she needed tolive in Chestnut Hill to be near her sick motherand consequently could not live in the Cambridgeresidence. Lord said she spent most of her nightsnear her mother, in a one-room studio at afriend's house.
The Foster St. house has been listed with theRent Control Board at $1000 per month sinceOctober, when Lord obeyed a city demand toregister the unit with the board.
A former tenant, Mark Neebe, said he had livedin the house with Lord in 1982. and that hereturned to the house to work on it three yearslater, remaining for three weeks. He said he sawfar less of Lord during his second visit.