PROVINCETOWN — The seven people who lived at 28-32 Standish St. knew roughly what to expect when their landlord told them, just over a year ago, that the three buildings there were for sale. Most of them had already lost a year-round tenancy or three to the market forces consuming this town’s rental housing, and they knew that, when a rental property sells, the buyer is rarely an aspiring landlord.
Three of those tenants said this month that they’re either out already or they have received instructions to leave by Nov. 1. One has found a new place to live; one is leaving Provincetown altogether; and the third is not sure where she will go when November comes. Their experiences vary, but together they show how displacement happens on Cape Cod.
Annmarie Piccerelli and Allan Lukauskas both received letters last September from the new owner, Lyn Plummer, saying they could continue to live there at the same rent until April 1 — a concession they did not expect — and that they could also choose to stay for a six-month “seasonal rental” from May to October 2022 at a higher rent. Piccerelli’s seasonal rent offer was $22,000, or $3,667 a month. Lukauskas was offered $16,000, or $2,667 a month.
Piccerelli’s prior rent was $1,500 a month; the seasonal rent more than doubled it. Lukauskas had been paying $999, so his seasonal rent almost tripled. Even at the new rates, their tenancy could not be extended past Oct. 31 of this year.
“I told her originally I was only staying until April,” said Lukauskas. “If I was healthy, I would have gotten rid of everything and been gone.”
Lukauskas turns 70 next week and finished a year-long course of chemotherapy for bone cancer last August. Surgery was scheduled for January 2022 to repair his shin bone, where the cancer had been. He realized that his rehabilitation would make it impractical to attempt a move in April, so he called Plummer, told her the circumstances, and accepted her seasonal rate.
When November comes, Lukauskas plans to move to Palm Springs. “I looked into it, and it would cost $18,000 to move everything,” he said. He plans to ship his art and otherwise keep only what fits in his car.
Piccerelli, a house painter, said she could not pay the “seasonal” rate. Because two tenants in the smallest apartment had already given up and moved to Florida, Piccerelli at one point accepted the seasonal rate for their apartment, $12,500, and was scheduled to move into it this spring, she said. But the building permits to renovate her unit apparently have been delayed. As of June, she hasn’t had to move and is still paying $1,500 per month.
“I have to sleep on someone’s couch starting Nov. 1,” Piccerelli said. “Unless something else comes up, I’m moving in with a friend.” She will turn 65 in December.
Dan McKeon, 67, was never offered a “seasonal rate.” The prior landlord, Marilyn Mervar Rodes, told him last July that he needed to be out of his apartment by Aug. 31.
McKeon told Rodes he would not comply because he had prepaid his rent for June, July, and August and had also paid first and last month’s rent and a security deposit when he moved there in 2016.
“She had my September rent as my last month’s rent already cashed, and so I told her I wasn’t leaving,” McKeon said. “She said, ‘You are leaving — I’ll just give you the money back,’ and I said, ‘It doesn’t work that way.’ She said, ‘You watch: it is going to work that way.’ ”
The transfer of 28-32 Standish from Rodes to Plummer took place on Sept. 1. McKeon consulted a lawyer and stayed through September, eventually asking Plummer if he could pay rent for another 45 days, which she permitted. He then moved to a new apartment on the other side of Route 6.
All three tenants had signed leases with Rodes every September. Although their new rent and final move-out date were communicated to them in a signed letter from Plummer, neither Lukauskas nor Piccerelli have a lease with Plummer.
Piccerelli said the absence of a lease might have to do with a tenant’s legal right to attempt to purchase their unit if the owner were to convert the six apartments to condominiums and sell them separately.
Plummer and her business partner, Maria Cirino, have been involved in many condo conversions in Provincetown. A search of the state’s corporate records database shows Plummer as the manager of a string of corporations that have at one time controlled at least 20 different residential addresses here. Half of those properties now host short-term rentals.
In fact, the town’s short-term rental taxpayers list includes 24 different residential units at 10 addresses owned or previously owned by Plummer, including all four units at 368 Commercial St. and seven of eight units at 331 Commercial St.
Plummer has not mentioned condominium conversion to the tenants at 28-32 Standish, according to Piccerelli and Lukauskas — but a surveyor working at the property two weeks ago told Piccerelli that’s why he was hired.
Piccerelli is wrong about one thing: Massachusetts does not have a tenant-right-to-purchase law. The legislature approved such a provision last year as part of the Housing Choice bill, but Gov. Baker vetoed that chapter when he signed the bill.
Massachusetts also has no law about the rate at which rent can increase. Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline used to have rent stabilization laws, but a statewide referendum in 1994 outlawed all state and local rent control. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu campaigned on a pledge to bring rent stabilization back, but that would take action by the legislature and governor or another referendum to undo Question 9.
Doug Cliggott is a member of Provincetown’s Year-Round Market Rate Rental Housing Trust and an economist and lecturer at UMass Amherst. He studies wealth and income inequality.
Cliggott said that rent control was first enacted in New York City in the 1920s, was taken nationwide by President Roosevelt in 1942, and started to be washed away in the trickle-down era that began in the 1970s. Most jurisdictions that still have rent control are in New York, New Jersey, and California, although Oregon passed a statewide rent control measure in 2019. Rent control sets boundaries around how much a tenant’s rent can be changed, typically tied to the rate of inflation.
“Rent control is door number one, two, three, and four, if you’re trying to address the severe negative consequences of wealth and income inequality,” said Cliggott. “It has a proven track record. It’s more important, I think, than a decent minimum wage.”
Cliggott also said he is alarmed by how many of his college students suffer from anxiety and depression, “because no one thinks they can sustain the kind of existence they had with their parents, and they are scared of what’s coming next.
“It’s not that we don’t have the right ideas,” Cliggott continued. “The right ideas have been there forever. But come on. I would argue that no society that makes it close to impossible for regular folks to live in a place where they grew up, or where they work every day, can claim to have any ethics or morality.”