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Landlord backs out of City Council hearing

Zakim considering subpoena to force Anwar Faisal to appear

Anwar Faisal was paid millions to house university students.

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2013

Anwar Faisal was paid millions to house university students.

One of the city’s most notorious landlords has backed out of his offer to appear before a City Council committee investigating his business relationship with Northeastern University, a member of the council said Monday.

Councilor Josh Zakim said he is considering seeking a subpoena to compel Anwar N. Faisal, the owner of Alpha Management Corp. and one of the most complained-about landlords of college students in Boston, to answer the Housing Committee’s questions. The panel is scheduled to hold its second hearing Tuesday.

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“We are disappointed that despite our efforts to accommodate his busy schedule, Mr. Faisal has again chosen not to attend the Housing Committee’s hearing,’’ Zakim said in a statement. “My office is considering all options, including using the City Council’s subpoena power, to compel Mr. Faisal’s attendance at a later hearing.’’

State law authorizes city councils and other government bodies to subpoena witnesses and to seek the same penalties for witnesses who refuse to show up as those imposed on witnesses who ignore subpoenas in civil cases in court.

Larry DiCara, who was City Council president in 1978, said the council has rarely invoked its subpoena power.

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When the committee held its first hearing last month on leases NU has with Faisal for student housing, the landlord wrote the committee that he was “entitled to due process.’’ Faisal said that notice of one working day to appear before the panel was unreasonable. He asked the committee to schedule another hearing Tuesday today or on July 8.

But in a recent letter, Faisal’s lawyer, Joshua Krefetz, wrote: “I do not believe Mr. Faisal could provide any relevant information not already presented by those who appeared before you, or which is not otherwise available on the public record. Thus, there is no reason for him to attend on June 24.’’

“Mr. Faisal can be of no further assistance to your inquiry,’’ Krefetz added. The lawyer defended Faisal at the first hearing and said his client had been wrongly accused of providing unsafe rental housing to college students.

Krefetz did not return phone calls or e-mails Monday.

The committee began its investigation after a Globe Spotlight Team investigation that found that Faisal is one of the most chronically complained-about landlords of college students and young people in Boston.

Over the past decade, he and his real estate companies have been defendants in at least 22 lawsuits and 11 criminal complaints in Boston Housing Court, according to court and city records. In the same period, he has received 469 code enforcement tickets totaling $51,720 for violations outside his buildings, including overloaded dumpsters, but paid only $3,010 in fines.

Two apartments leased by college students in two Faisal buildings on St. Stephen Street were condemned in 2012 and 2013 after officials from the Inspectional Services Department deemed them uninhabitable.

Faisal has also been the subject of 16 complaints by tenants filed with the state attorney general’s office since 2008. He has more than 2,000 apartments, Krefetz said last fall.

During the Spotlight Team investigation, current and former tenants graphically described the squalid conditions they endured, including rats that scurried into bedrooms, bedbugs that left welts on arms and legs, radiators that raised temperatures above 90 degrees or turned cold, and eviction notices sent by mistake.

For a decade, NU, which housed only 47 percent of its undergraduates on campus last fall, has paid Faisal millions to house students in a dozen buildings he owns just steps from campus in the Fenway.

In the most recent school year, more than 300 NU students lived in apartments the school leases from Faisal, accounting for more than half of the 600 students living in buildings privately leased by the university, according to NU. Those students request repairs through NU, which has financed renovations of Faisal’s units and generally makes sure they are in decent condition.

Nonetheless, one NU graduate told the committee last month that he spent four unhappy weeks in a rodent-
infested apartment on St. Stephen Street that was owned by Faisal and leased by the university in September 2008.

Other NU students rent apartments directly from Faisal in those same buildings, sometimes after getting referrals from the college’s website, and appear to endure worse conditions, according to numerous interviews, complaints with the city, and lawsuits in Housing Court.

NU has said it is reviewing how Faisal manages his buildings as a result of the Spotlight Team report.

The university, in a recent letter to Faisal, threatened to end its business relationship with him and to stop referring other NU students to rent directly from him, if it is unsatisfied with the quality of the housing.

In informing the committee that Faisal would not appear Monday, Krefetz noted that his client met last month with Inspectional Service’s new commissioner, William “Buddy’’ Christopher Jr., and invited inspectors to examine his properties. On June 6, Krefetz wrote, a team of five city inspectors visited 11 of Faisal’s buildings, including three where NU leases apartments, with one hour’s notice. The inspections lasted five hours.

Christopher confirmed those details Monday and said inspectors found no violations. Asked to reconcile those results with the findings of the Spotlight Team report, Christopher said Faisal recently told him that Alpha “really didn’t have a formal maintenance team that went around to buildings’’ in the past. “But he said he does have a maintenance crew that goes around now.’’

A former Alpha employee, Steven Ravanis II, told the Globe Monday that he fielded phone calls from tenants while working for Faisal for about two months this spring in Alpha’s headquarters in Allston.

He got five to 10 calls a day from tenants complaining about leaks, broken locks, rodents, cockroaches, and trash in the hallways.

Ravanis said there were only two maintenance workers to handle the complaints, so tenants often had to wait weeks for repairs.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman
@globe.com.
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