A group of families who lost their homes in the Walden Eco Village in Peterborough after town officials found the structures were dangerous to inhabit are suing the property owner, seeking to at least get their security deposits returned.
Last month, the town found unsafe conditions at the eco village, as well as several living units put up without permits, and ordered the 25 tenants out. Now, several former tenants have started a class action lawsuit seeking to have property owner Akhil Garland pay back their deposits and get them new homes as soon as possible.
“I’ve got people living with friends and family temporarily, I’ve got people living in hotel rooms, none of this can continue much longer,” said attorney Jason Bielagus, who is representing the former tenants.
Garland, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” on LinkedIn, did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment, and he does not have a publicly listed phone number for his home or his businesses.
Bielagus said his clients will be in court this week seeking to force Garland to pay pack their deposits and hire real estate agents to help them find new homes.
“People need their deposits so they can rent a new space,” he said.
Garland started looking for town permission to expand his small house housing development this summer. Walden Eco Village is located on Garland Way, which is off Hancock Road.
Town officials described it as a thrown together complex of small, unsuitable and unsafe living quarters for which Garland was charging as much as $1,400 a month.
Last month, Tim Herlihy, Peterborough’s code enforcement officer, inspected the property and reportedly found holes in floors and roofs, small houses without water, bathrooms or kitchens, electrical hookups done without permits, and leaking gas lines among the rental units.
Bielagus said it is Garland’s responsibility as landlord to make sure the homes are up to code, safe, and have all the necessary permits. He said the average renter does not hire a building inspector before moving in, nor do they scour town records to confirm all the permitting is complete.
“Landlords have the responsibility to provide habitable, safe dwellings,” he said.
The property is adjacent to the private Well School, and originally included a main house and smaller cabins that were set aside for teachers at the school. T.J. Mackey, head of the school, has said there is no relationship between the school and Garland.
The Walden Eco Village website describes the development as an environmentally friendly living space.
“A working farm with animals and vegetables provides organic foods to its residents, a working sawmill provides lumber for construction, and small-footprint, sustainable structures provide an opportunity for simple, low-carbon footprint living,” the Walden website states.
Town photos show over-used extension cords to bring electricity to one of the units, as well as what appear to be unsafe connections to liquid petroleum tanks used to heat the units. Some of the units lack working kitchens, leaving the tenants to use propane-powered camping stoves for indoor cooking.