The town of Peterborough is now a defendant in a lawsuit brought by renters against the Walden Eco Village development.
Four former tenants filed the lawsuit against Walden, which is controlled by Utopia Living Inc., which is managed by Akhil Garland and the Garland family Trust.
The tenants were evicted after town officials inspected the property and found numerous health and safety code violations, according to court records.
Garland moved to add the town as a defendant in the case, arguing Peterborough is liable for the damages the tenants incurred. Garland’s attorney, Steve Dutton, writes in the motion to add Peterborough that town officials refused to work with Garland over the violations.
The motion claims town officials were aware of the living conditions long before the inspection.
Judge Diane Nicolosi granted the motion to add the town to the suit on March 26.
“The Defendants therefore bring this Third-Party Complaint against the Town for its unreasonable and unlawful conduct in issuing a cease and desist order requiring almost immediate eviction in the middle of the winter during the COVID-19 pandemic with no prior notice, notwithstanding the Town’s longstanding knowledge of the Walden Eco Village and nature of the tiny homes,” Dutton wrote.
The former tenants, Corinne Chronopoulos, Sarah Trento, Michelle O’Mahony and Griffin Kelley, are seeking monetary damages from Garland after they were forced to find new homes. Many of the homes on the Walden property were built without permits, according to court records.
Peterborough officials issued a cease-and-desist letter to Garland after an inspection found unsafe living conditions at the 60-acre property. 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.
Tim Herlihy, Peterborough’s Code Enforcement officer, inspected the property in December and reportedly found holes in floors and roofs, small houses without water, bathrooms or kitchens, electrical hookups done without permits, and leaking gas lines are some of the conditions found among the rental units.
The inspection was prompted by Garland when he sought permission to expand the village. According to the Walden website, it is an “intentional” community that offers an environmentally friendly living space.
Garland continues to try to get permits to expand the housing at Walden. The development was first set up as a home for teachers who worked at the adjacent Well School, which was founded by Garland’s father, Jay Garland. The school is no longer associated with the property.