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Owner of dilapidated Chinatown building fights city effort to fix it before it collapses

The owner of 29-33 Edinboro St. in Chinatown has gone to federal court to try to block a receiver appointed by a state Housing Court judge from hiring engineers and contractors to repair the crumbling and currently vacant building.

In August, a housing-court judge agreed with ISD to appoint a receiver with the power to do what it takes to make the building safe again - and then bill the owner, Catherine Lee of West Newton, for the work. But Lee and Esther Zee Lee, of the same address in West Newton, who says she now owns the building, this week filed to move the case to US District Court in Boston, alleging the order violates their due-process rights under the 14th Amendment.

In July, 2019, Catherine Lee had signed an agreement with ISD that the building was unsafe and that she would hire a structural engineer to make recommendations on how to make the building safe again. The agreement came a couple months after ISD had gone to Housing Court seeking an order to make her make repairs.

Housing Court Judge Irene Bagdoian appointed a receiver, ruling on Aug. 26 that Lee had done nothing to fix the building:

The defendant has been granted repeated opportunities to correct code violations which, in this Court's view, pose a serious threat to the health and safety of the occupants of adjacent buildings and the densely populated area where the subject property is located. The defendant has failed to correct the violations despite the chances provided by this Court. Equity demands that these violations be corrected in a timely manner. A receiver will accomplish this.

In their motion to move the case to federal court, Catherine Lee and Esther Zee Lee, who shares the same West Newton address, said the Housing Court actions violate their due-process rights because the trust controlled by Catherine Lee sold the building to a trust controlled by Esther Zee Lee this past August - for the sum of $1 - yet Esther Zee Lee was never notified of the proceedings, including the appointment of a receiver, and that ISD added her as a defendant in September without proper prior notice.

Also, the motion continues, the cost of repairs could exceed $4 million, well above the $75,000 minimum required for lawsuits in federal court.

According to city assessing records, the building has a value of $2.9 million.

Copies of some of Housing Court filings (14.2M PDF).
Lee request to move case to federal court (1.3M PDF).




Ah the old shifting owners (who live at the same house) to delay court orders / expensive repairs scheme.

"Its a bold strategy Cotton, lets see if it pays off for em."

Voting closed 43

that building; it's a former shoe factory, I believe. They all worked for Atari as arcade game coders, and hosted weekly game nights, alternating between poker and D&D. They all rode motorcycles and used the freight elevator to park them inside that massive floor-through loft of a space. We could hear the "Hai! Hai!" from the kung-fu school below us all evening long. Good times!

Voting closed 59

Love tales of the weird old Boston which has almost completely been eradicated.

Voting closed 36

I was expecting this to be another of Dickey's properties.

Seems like the Lee family is playing from the same handbook.

So ... are they just taking turns to see who gets sued when it drops?

Voting closed 24

Because the receiver the judge appointed is the same one who was appointed in his case.

Another similarity: Dickey kept buying time by trying to get his case moved to federal court, even though federal judges kept sending the case right back to housing court, because federal courts don't have any jurisdiction over state health and safety regulations. There might be a different issue here - the lack of notification of the alleged real owner of the property - though.

Voting closed 25

That's such a weird little alley of a street. I used to go to work that way and I'd see these massively giant dead fish on pallets being wheeled into the back of the restaurants there.

Voting closed 7

... you have responsibilities. The judge has done the right thing appointing a receiver.
The Lees won’t be cashing in after allowing the building to rot then selling the land to a developer.
Not wise to ignore neighborhood groups and ISD.

Voting closed 18

Not wise to ignore neighborhood groups and ISD.

Ignoring neighborhood groups and ISD. is something that is done at everybody's peril, including one's own.

Voting closed 23

It's too bad that all too often, progress is made at the expense of the very character of neighborhoods.

Voting closed 24

If the building really is ready to fall over and kill people, why doesn't the court or the city actually DO something about it ASAP? They can settle the legal and financial questions later, but first keep the thing from falling over.

Voting closed 24