After he served his country in World War II, came home, and got his plumber’s license, Hilbert Nickerson plunked down $15,000 for the old house on Adelaide Street in Jamaica Plain.
His father had owned the place before him, and Hilbert decided the rambling three-story in a handsome neighborhood would be a good place to start a family.
And that’s exactly what he and his wife, Irene, did. They raised three kids there, and helped pay the bills by renting out the first-floor unit. Aside from the usual minor headaches that come with tenants, things went just fine.
Hilbert and Irene have been married for 65 years now. And things aren’t fine anymore. Which brings me to Adam Schatten, who, like Herman Melville’s short-story character, Bartleby the scrivener, simply refuses to leave.
Schatten is essentially squatting on the floor beneath the Nickersons, and the landlord-tenant dispute is now in Boston’s Housing Court. If there is any justice, the Nickersons will prevail and they can return to the peace and quiet of the retirement they’ve surely earned.
The backstory: The Nickersons rented the first floor to a man and woman who intended to marry. But that didn’t work out. The woman left, the guy got a roommate. Then the guy left and that roommate got another roommate. And so on. In November 2013, the newest roommate became Adam Schatten.
According to court records, Schatten is familiar with the intricacies of the laws governing tenants’ rights. He’s been in legal spats with his landlords before. And this 40-year-old guy knows how the play the system like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello.
The Nickersons moved to evict Schatten, alleging that their tenant refused to pay the rent from June to September, stiffing them a total of $6,750. Schatten filed a counterclaim, demanding a jury trial.
He’s asking for, among other things, $18,000 in damages. It seems the guy he used to share the unit with – and here I will quote directly from an April 5 Boston police report — “yelled at him really loudly.’’ The verbal fight was over the rent. The roommate moved out and Schatten now says all of that terrible yelling amounts to “domestic abuse’’ a legal impediment to the Nickersons’ attempts to evict him.
Just the kind of guy you’d want living downstairs.
The neighborhood is up in arms. And the reason is that over the years since the Nickersons moved here in 1953 they’ve become beloved figures. Hilbert would install your boiler and then “forget” to send you a bill. Irene would make cookies to repay the kindness of neighbors who cut the grass in the summer and shoveled the walk in the winter.
“It makes my blood boil,’’ said Chris Hoeh, who lives two doors down and teaches the second grade at the Cambridge Friends School. “I worry about ‘Nick’ and Irene spending their last days in anxiety and it’s absurd. Why is he doing this?’’
I wanted to ask Schatten that myself. When I knocked on his door the other night, he took my business card and then scampered away as if I had slipped him a hand grenade.
On Friday, he sent me a very long statement — some details of which he quickly retracted — that essentially said he’s right and the Nickersons are wrong.
“I have very little sympathy for Hilbert Nickerson, who has forgotten the golden rule in his golden years and has gone well out of his way to discourage my right to enjoy my home,’’ tenant Schatten wrote.
Hilbert, who turned 88 Friday and is now in a rehab hospital after treatment for a bleeding ulcer, just shakes his head in bewilderment.
“He has to be stopped,’’ Irene said. “This is my house.’’
Allow me, please, to play judge and jury for just a moment here.
Adam Schatten, approach the bench.
Here’s what you’re going to do. Leave Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson alone.
In other words, pay up, and then get the hell out.