Please email us or call 413-736-6414 if you would like any further documentation of this matter. Many guests and others comment on this abuse of power
(Please see attached for other Rooming house/boarding houses in this city.)
I will speak about this tonight before Springfield City Council at 6:30 pm September 12, 2011.
I will not hold the city blameless as I cannot live here without my work, although I also do a meager amount of translation and interpreting at the hospitals and teaching at STCC to try to earn enough to pay my bills.
The city of Springfield has driven out my B&B, a source of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in income to other businesses also in spending by my guests at attractions, restaurants, gas stations and also the tax revenue on that....
The assessors (accompanied at various times by Bldg. Dept and Code Enforcement) have made a living hell of trying to run a quiet, upscale business and live in what I thought was a magnificent "city of homes."
The assessors have reclassified the B&B four times in five years; as of 2011, I have a new classification, one that is unidentified except by the first two of its three digits - for “non-transient group home” and doesn’t exist in ANY of the tax codes or health regulations or general laws of the Commonwealth. Yes, Springfield’s Assessors have invented a NEW classification just for my Bed and Breakfast Home, which in all the above legal statutes is said to be a single-family residence! No answer has been forthcoming when I asked for the name of this classification, its permitting, licensing and inspection requirements, and where I can find those obligations in the laws of the city and state.
I therefore am open to any and all harassment (oh, I mean licensing, permits, inspections income reporting, and who knows what else) the city intends to dish out under this unnamed and heretofore unknown classification. I have lost income, peace of mind, my business and my home from direct, focused, and specific actions of more than half a decade directed at me and the business I conduct in my home.
And since the Appellate Tax Board ruled last month in my appeal of the Rooming House/Boarding House designation that because the taxes remain the same Springfield can go ahead an classify me as a rooming house/boarding house, for a business person wanting to operate above board under the permit granted by the city appropriate to her business, this nightmare has to end.
Diana Mara Henry for the Lathrop House B&B in Springfield, MA.
188 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA 01108
413-736-6414 (House office)
For longer chronology with exhibits presented to the Appellate TAx Board in hearing of June 29, 2011, see end of page please.)
Complete list of rooming houses in Springfield as of 2010 - Four of the eight are Friends of the Homeless and one is the Lathrop House B&B:
Longer statement and chronology:
Springfield has a new rooming house/boarding house in Historic Forest Park Heights; I live in it, own it, and never planned it that way. I bought the house at 188 Sumner Ave. in 2001 as a home for my daughter and myself, and developed the B&B idea so I could work from home.
In 2003, I applied for and was granted a permit for a Bed and Breakfast from the Springfield City Council. With approval from the Forest Park Civic Association, I was granted a permit for two rooms. In 2006, I asked and received approval from both for a third bedroom. According to specifically written MA state laws and codes, I am a Bed and Breakfast Home, as opposed to a Bed and Breakfast Establishment, of four rooms or more.
After I operated for two years under the terms of the permit, in 2005 I received a threatening letter from the building department telling me I had to stop operating if I didn’t get a “Change of Use” under threat of $1,000 a day fine or a year in prison, or both. “Someone doesn’t like you,” I was told at the Building Dept. That was just the start. The Fire Dept. required a $6,000 paper rationale to an already perfectly adequate fire and security alarm system.
Then my tax classification was changed from residential to partly commercial- against all the codes and examples in the Dept. of Revenue classifications. But the bottom line didn’t change much- so that year and the next, due to my ignorance, I paid the taxes without even noticing the change. But in 2006, my valuation went from $278 to $434 thousand, my taxes from $5,000 to $13,000 and the classification went from primarily residential to primarily commercial - to hotel/motel status, in fact.
Whoa! Time to hire a lawyer, shell out the big bucks, lobby the city councilors (“always come to me first!” crowed one...) and the valuation went back down, but wait! My noble single B&B Home was classified as a Rooming House/Boarding house. Four classifications in five years! Who can do business that way, living and working on quick sand...
Want to know who else is classified as a rooming house/boarding house in Springfield? Well, Friends of the Homeless, with five facilities of 40,50,60 units, and Lord Nathan Rest Home. Do they have three rooms or fewer to rent, for two weeks or less, as my permit requires? Does their owner live on the premises? Belong to the Visitor and Convention Bureau? Advertise on B&B websites and offer nights for silent auctions for Big Brother/Big Sister, MacDuffie School, WGBY, the GSCVB ( Convention and Visitors’ Bureau) Tornado Relief fundraiser and dozens more good causes?
Well, what’s a person to do when they run out of money to pay the lawyer? Go to the Appellate Tax Board on their own...which I did, encountering a ferocious city attorney in the process. Whereas these city attorneys couldn’t write a requirement that our school superintendant use a $30,000 bonus ONLY for buying property in Springfield, and whereas the assessors are said to have dropped the ball on getting car dealerships to pay more than a million dollars in excise taxes, and value cell phone towers and billboards at about 1/2 their comp valuations, the city attorneys are valiant at muscling in on a one-of a kind small business that has brought well over a million dollars to the city in guests’ spending on gas, restaurants, and attractions.
If I have any hours left from trying to defend my business from the city and obtain some peace, I try to make ends meet by translating at the hospitals and exhibiting my photographs. But I cannot afford to live in Springfield without the undisturbed pursuit of my B&B business, which is impossible in a hostile civic environment.
But why should anyone care? I mean really, loss of income and harassment to one business --- although just spend an hour at the Assessors and see the flow of misery through those doors as selected residents try to cope with and contest their outsized upward valuations and other incomprehensible anomalies...
Springfield residents may care because the reason for the assessors’ actions, as they reported to me, was that “a neighbor complained about the taxes I am paying.” Apparently the City of Springfield has no intention of protecting its residents, be it from a hostile neighbor or a vindictive well-connected member of a family who can pull strings at the Building Department. Look around - a city with such geographic, educational and entrepreneurial resources is dying on the vine, due to favoritism instead of enforcement of the laws.
Springfield is going to lose its one and only Bed and Breakfast Home. (Yes, there is a Bed and Breakfast Establishment of 4 rooms or more, subject to other codes, laws, permits and inspections, that the assessors also told me was pressuring them to pursue actions against me – impossible!) As a Rooming House/Boarding House, I cannot get insurance, refinance, or sell as a single-family residence - which is the only specified classification for a Bed and Breakfast Home.
But wait! As of 2011, I have a new classification, one that is unidentified except by the first two of its three digits - for “non-transient group home” and doesn’t exist in ANY of the tax codes or health regulations or general laws of the Commonwealth. Yes, Springfield’s Assessors have invented a NEW classification just for my Bed and Breakfast Home, which in all the above legal statutes is said to be a single-family residence! No answer has been forthcoming since I asked for the name of this classification, its permitting, licensing and inspection requirements, and where I can find those obligations in the laws of the city and state.
But the Appellate Tax Board ruled last month in my appeal of the Rooming House/Boarding House designation that since the taxes remain the same the city can go ahead an classify me as a rooming house/boarding house. For a business person wanting to operate above board under the permit granted by the city appropriate to her business, this nightmare has to end.
I am open to any and all harassment (oh, I mean licensing, permits, inspections income reporting, and who knows what else) the city intends to dish out under the more recent unnamed and heretofore unknown classification, or under the rooming house/boarding house designation for which I do not have a permit. I have lost income, peace of mind, my business and my home from direct, focused, and specific actions of more than half a decade directed at me and the business I conduct in my home. My warning to the good people of the City of Springfield: it could happen to you.
Diana Mara Henry for the Lathrop House B&B in Springfield, MA.
188 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA 01108
413-736-6414 (House office) mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Appellate Tax Board decision: (on appeal to the MA Court of Appeals, by DMH- who would appreciate the help of a lawyer!)
Property Type Classifications from the MA Department of Revenue ( who issued the above decision!)
Chronology of taxes: see other years in longer chronology, below....
2011: class 120....
2009: valuation up 40%, illegal commercial classification almost triples taxes abatement successfulbut the reclassifying didn't stop.
Chronology of the Classification and Valuation changes for
188 Sumner Avenue, 2003-2010
Thank you to the Commonwealth of MA Appellate Tax Board for scheduling this hearing on Docket # X303447. I would request to know if I can receive a transcript of the proceedings.
Ex. A: Notices of Hearing, June 15 and continued to June 29, Statement under Informal Procedure, Notice of Refusal to Abate Fiscal Year 2010
Former Cambridge City Councilor David Scondras, a mentor, fellow B&B Home owner, and the originator of many of the code specializations for B&B Homes in the MA General Regulations in 1996 is here as an expert witness.
EX. B: David Scondras letter re B&B homes and email re home rule problem
My request at this appeal before the Appellate Tax Board is that this proceeding result in the restoration of classification 101, residential, for my Bed and Breakfast Home, which it should properly be.
Ex C: Dept. of Revenue /Division of Local Services Property Type Classification Codes Revised June 2009
In 2003 I was granted a permit for a two-bedroom Bed and Breakfast, and that permit was amended in 2006 to add another room.
Ex. D: City Council permits 2003 and 2006 and Springfield City Ordinance re Bed and Breakfast Homes
As you know, three bedroom Bed and Breakfasts are classified as Bed and Breakfast Homes, as contrasted with Bed and Breakfast Establishments of four or more rooms.
Ex. E: - MGL Ch. 299: Classification of Bed and Breakfasts
105 CMR; 590.002: Definitions
For the first three years of the Lathrop House’s existence as a Bed and Breakfast Home, the classification showing on the tax statements was properly unchanged from residential, 101.
Ex. F: – tax returns for 2004, 2005, 2006.
In 2005, the city went on the offensive. An order to obtain a “Building Permit” under penalty of $1,000/day and/or a year in jail” fell on me. Seeking only to comply and hold onto my livelihood, and not realizing the legal briarpatch I was being forced into, I jumped through every snare sprung on me, including the $6,000 I had to pay my electrician for the elaborate justification required for my already adequate fire alarm system.
Ex. G: Order to obtain under threat; 780 CMR Article 110-“Special Regulations” cited in that order; Application for a Dwelling Permit and 780 CMR Article 310. 0 Regulations given as a basis; Building Permit (“Do not occupy until a Certificate for Occupancy has been issued”); Certificate for Occupancy/change of use.
When the tax bill came for 2007, I did not even notice the wrongful change of classification to 013, or primarily residential with commercial use. In the next year, I did notice the higher tax bill and went to the assessors to try to discover the cause. It was not explained to me that my classification had been changed from 101 two years before to 013. ( In my correspondence with many of the 3-room bed and breakfast homes I came to realize that not many owners know their classification and most do not even deal with their tax bills themselves. )
Ex. H: tax bills for 2007 and 2008- classification 013
In 2009 I realized the existence and significance of classification, when my valuation was raised from 275,000 to 344,900 and my classification changed to primarily commercial, 031, resulting in a tax bill of $13,000 compared to $5,000 the year before. I was told at the assessors’ office that it had been determined that was running a hotel/motel, the “most apt” description of my business (totally ignoring the Bed and Breakfast Home description contained in many passages of the codes and the permit that had been granted me to run one.)
Ex. I: tax bill for 2009
( see above )
Time to call a lawyer! Fortunately, A. Douglas Matthews, Esq. was able to represent the merits of an abatement which was granted, though only partially, as it turned out. I was compelled to forgo any correction of the faulty commercial classification, 013 of previous years, and to forgo return of excess monies collected because of that faulty classification, as part of the deal.
Ex. J: abatement settlement, tax abatement, and notes from the communication with Assessor Allen with offer terms “Entirely residential.”
My lawyer and I both expected that the part of our abatement petition for a return to 101 classification, which had been part of our pleadings, would accompany the return to a reasonable valuation of the house; that good faith assumption was violated by the imposition of a new classification -121 - applicable to rooming houses and boarding houses. This is the classification on appeal today.
Ex. K: tax bill 2010
The starting numbers 12 are assigned by M.G.L. Chapter 59#2A to “Non-Transient Group Quarters” whereas a Bed and Breakfast Home is for Transient use by individual guests by reservation. The assessor Mr. Allen explained to me that “we have to try to find the best description for the use of the property.” Yet per code, use and reality, the best description is Residential single family home 101.
Ex. L: Other Bed and Breakfast Homes in Massachusetts classified 101
The Forest Park Civic Association, which twice endorsed my application to this city council for a B&B home, defined as being 3 rooms or less, let me know at the time that they would not favor my seeking a variance for a fourth room. I think we all know what would be their position had I gone for a permit for a rooming house/boarding house to be consistent with my tax classification. There is no other rooming house/boarding house in Forest Park.
This egregiously wrongful designation is illuminated by comparison with the 8 other rooming house/ boarding houses in Springfield: Upon investigation, I discovered that 5 of the 8 locations in that category in Springfield were Friends of the Homeless shelters with 40, 50, 60 units. Another two were nursing homes.
None are in a Residential A district except for Lord Nathan Rest Home, Inc, with 16 residents. There are three in Residence C districts: Meyer James, at 68 Calhoun St., Victor and Marina , Inc, at 41 Spring St. ( 41 rooms, each with kitchen) , and Friends of the Homeless, Inc, at 32 Byers St. (55 units.) The others are all Friends of the Homeless establishments in Business A or Business B districts, all with 50-60 units and a lease.
Clearly the Lathrop House B&B with its 3 rooms for Bed and Breakfast in Residence A district does not fit this arbitrary classification change.
Ex.M: list of other 121 classifieds in Springfield.
At the same time, I was asked to present a statement of income and expense for “apartment units” for not just one, but two past years....
Ex. N: Income and Expense Statement demand, legal protest, and forms submitted for FY 2010 and FY 2011
At a meeting of the City Council, I presented some of the differences between rooming house/boarding houses and a Bed and Breakfast Home:
Ex. O: city council presentation.
Many licensing, inspection, and building requirements differentiate B&B Homes from B&B Establishments.
Please note also from the city website the different permitting and licensing requirements:
• for a Bed and Breakfast - City Council approval only
•for a Rooming House - City Council approval and license from the Department of Health and Human Services
Ex. P: from the City website permit matrix and MGL Chapter 64G.
My lawyer applied for an abatement of the valuation and for a return to 101 classification. Both were denied.
Ex.Q: abatement application and Douglas Matthews argument. For denial, see Ex.A.
Is it not compelling that I have a permit only to operate a Bed and Breakfast Home, for short guest visits in my single-family residence, not a non-transient group home in which the owner need not reside? Both times my permit was discussed and approved by local neighborhood association, and by the city council, it was for a Bed and Breakfast with a stay limit of 2 weeks. It was not a rooming house/ boarding house or any other non-transient group lodging that was noticed to my neighbors or reviewed by the community, and that is not the business I am conducting in my home.
Having run a decent, modest business that brings upscale revenue to the city and helps me maintain one of its very historic homes, I am not seeking preferential treatment but only the legal description and responsibilities of my business, no more and no less. I also am seeking relief from the continuous changes in classification that constitute harassment and intimidation and are depriving me of the quiet enjoyment of my home as well as constituting an impediment to my being able to save and use my dwindling energies as a senior citizen to support myself instead of struggling against a hostile and malicious civic environment.
In conclusion, I request that the board assist me in ridding this property of any and all classifications but single family 101 without my enduring further legal expense and aggravation. I hope that the board can advise the assessors to refrain from assigning new and arbitrary classifications-as it seems solely for the purpose, or at least to the effect, of harassing and financially burdening me.
There is an apt and exact classification for my business, and that is Bed and Breakfast Home, residential 101. I hope you will restore that classification today. Thank you.
Email us with your suggestions for legal assistance. Thank you. Many guests and others comment on this abuse of power