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Housing Court offers solutions

By Levon J. Kinney

Staff Intern

SPRINGFIELD On Sept. 27, members of the community learned how Community Policing and Housing Court can help bring peace back to their neighborhoods.

The Community Policing Management Team is a coalition of police and residents of the city of Springfield.

The city is divided into nine sectors and each section has its own Beat Management Team. Each team meets once a month at different locations depending upon the area of the city. Members of the community can come and specific problems can be brought up at these meetings. The members of the team can help witness acts and be called upon in court as witnesses if possible.

Susan Poole, a board member of the Community Police in Forest Park, said she has had remarkable success in the courts and she urged the rest of Springfield's residents to take back their community.

She said the program has, "hope for help."

"It is a long-term solution to the problem," she said, adding that just calling the police and complaining does little if anything to help.

On average, the Western District Housing Court handles an average of 10,000 cases every year everything from delinquent tenants to absentee landlords to obnoxious neighbors whose constant harassment disrupts the everyday life of law-abiding citizens. Every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. this court can be found in one of the four counties in the area.

"We are a travelling court," said Jesse Cochin, assistant clerk magistrate of the court. "One day we will be in Springfield, the next in Northampton, one day in Pittsfield, etc."

The bulk of Housing Court cases are evictions, which are heard in Springfield every Thursday, one session in the morning and another in the afternoon.

The cost of filing evictions is $130 with a $5 summons fee. Filing an emergency restraining order costs $105 with a $5 summons fee. And to file a small claims case costs between $30 and $40. Fees are to be paid up front by cash or check.

Housing specialists are employed by the court and are trained to help all who seek their assistance. They are trained mediators who will help organize the facts, get behind the real issues of the case, and to write binding agreements between the two parties. In addition to mediating they also carry out housing inspections and arrange the hearings for court.

"The only thing we don't do is hold your hand," Cochin said. He suggests talking with groups in the community to help understand the procedures.

An emergency order complaint is the first form that needs to be filled out for the proceedings to start. Things to include in the report are specific incidents in your neighborhood, how you have tried to resolve the problem, and what you would like the court to do.

The next step is to go to the Hampden County Sheriffs office. A sheriff will serve the court date notice, for a $35 fee, to the defendant.

John Kontekakis, a member of the Forest Park community, has some tips to get ready for court.

"Gather complaint notes, and type them out. Make a second copy to leave with the judge. Contact your neighbors and witnesses to inform them of court date, and keep reminding them as the date approaches. Also contact the Police Beat Management Team, they have been to housing court before and will be an asset to have, " Kontekakis said.

For years Kontekakis said he had been harassed by neighbors who did not appreciate him and other citizens in the area. Loud music was playing at all hours of the night, cars were racing up and down the street, dogs would bark non-stop, and flagrant drug-dealers owned the neighborhood.

This all stopped when he appeared in court and the judge ruled that the defendants could not play music from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.; guests would not be allowed to visit the home between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.; the automobiles were to be operated in a lawful and quiet manner; and the dogs, whose constant barking was a disturbance to the peace, were ordered to be restrained and not allowed to bark between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Defendants who try to retaliate in any way towards the person who makes the complaint would be referred to the District Attorney's office and be held in contempt of court.

"It will add peace back into your life," says Kontekakis. "It will restore your neighborhood, and protect your home's value."

For more information on the court system call 732-7838. The office is located at 37 Elm Street, Springfield. Information about The Community Police Beat Management Team, call 787-6359, or visit your neighborhood Civic Association meetings.