Greg Sullivan Tom Finneran, And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Condo Conversion

In response to the hardworking staff’s chronicling of Faye Dunaway’s Manhattan housing-court rumpus (My Rental! My Sublet! My Rental! My Sublet!), splendid reader Bob Gardner wrote this:

My favorite rent control story never made it into print. It took place here in Boston (on Brainerd Road) and involved a piece of furniture belonging to Tom Finneran and the current head of the state office of Ethics, Greg Sullivan, then a state rep.

We, of course, replied thusly:

That’s it? C’mon, Bob – spill.

And Bob did not disappoint:

Briefly, this is what happened.  Sullivan was doing condo conversions in the late 1980’s and bought a building on Brainerd Road.  Almost immediately, he started to evict the tenants in a rent-controlled apartment. (From the records it appears that the original rent controlled tenant had left- which made the apartment eligible for decontrol.)  However, the rent board was not moving quick enough for Sullivan, because there was a hand-written note from Jim Finneran in the files of that case.
“Let’s get moving on this.” the note said (or words to that effect–I’d have to dig out the records again to get the exact wording).   Finneran was the city’s liason/lobbyist to the state legislature.  It seemed pretty dicey to me that someone on the city payroll thought it was his job to help out-of-town legislators evict Boston residents.  Even dicier was the stationery that the note was written on.  “From the desk of Thomas Finneran.”  Jim Finneran, of course, was Speaker Thomas Finneran’s brother.
I was scandalized. The idea that powerful people at the State House and City Hall were conspiring together against an ordinary tenant . . . I know it’s not exactly Watergate but I was a tenant advocate. Besides there was more.
Because of two provisions in the condo conversion law at that time, Sullivan’s eviction was probably illegal.  At that time an owner was required to notify tenants of their rights–as soon as the decision to convert was made, including the right to remain in the building for a period of time.  I’m pretty certain that the eviction was started, and rushed,  so that he wouldn’t have to do this for his rent-controlled tenant.
This type of thing happened a lot during condo conversions.  Usually the landlord got away with it by claiming that the decision to convert came after the evictions were concluded.  And who’s to say when the landlord decided to become a condo converter?
Sullivan, however, tripped himself up on another provision of the condo law.  He had to go in front of the rent board for a hearing.  When tenants showed up to oppose the condo conversion, Sullivan testified that he only  bought the building to convert it and that he never had any intention of running it as a rental.  The rent board, to its credit, rejected the conversion and Sullivan sold the building soon after.
So to summarize: a bunch of politican operatives went after an ordinary tenant in order that Rep. Greg Sullivan could squeeze a little more money out of his prospective condo conversion.  Sullivan, Jim Finneran, and Tom Finneran’s desk were all being paid for by the taxpayers while they did this.
(I only wish I had known about this while it was going on.  As it was I only got curious about it a couple years later when a local reporter, Tom Lecompte, called me up and asked about Sullivan, and I told him that I hadn’t heard anything, although I lived around the corner from Brainerd Road.  A few weeks later I was downtown and looked up the rent control records. But by that time it was too late.  Tom Lecompte, if you ever read this, I apologize.  I should have done some research first before I answered you.)
But anyway–Greg Sullivan–head of the Office of Ethics.

Excellent story, Bob. Thanks for writing.

(Full disclosure: The hardworking staff has done exactly zero original reporting on this. Just call us the hardworking steno. Your bitter recriminations go here.)

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