EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 4, 2013

Judge watches once-infested apartments

City councilor says repairs must be thorough and made quickly

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — A judge is keeping a close eye on repairs to a city apartment building that brought numerous complaints about bugs, rats and other unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Families living in apartments at 34 Grand Ave. complained repeatedly to the city about rodents and bugs in the building, a lack of consistent heat and water and other problems. City health officials clamped down on the owner and ordered him to address numerous code violations that were found during an inspection by city health and safety inspectors. But when he failed to respond, the city brought the case to the Northeast Housing Court in Lawrence, where a judge appointed a receiver. Since that time there have been no complaints from tenants, city health officials said.

But, the receiver is being monitored closely by the housing court to ensure code violations are being addressed in an effective and timely manner, health officials said.

City Health Agent Bonnie Dufresne said the receiver, Avatar Properties, was issued a building permit Oct. 19 to remodel six kitchens and six bathrooms and replace 21 windows in the building, located a few blocks north of downtown. She said this periodic reporting is required of every receiver that is appointed by the housing court to address health and safety concerns. The building has 10 units.

Dufresne said that on July 5, Northeast Housing Court Judge David Kerman appointed Avatar, a residential and commercial property management company, as receiver. The order gives Avatar a range of powers, including borrowing money and granting security interests of liens on the property, collecting rents and applying them to payment of any repairs that are necessary to bring the property into compliance with the sanitary code.

Three weeks ago, a representative of Avatar Properties went before a judge in the Northeast Housing Court to report on progress being made.

City Councilor Michael McGonagle, a member of the Public Safety Committee, said it is in the best interest of a receiver to do the work required because the sooner it is done the sooner that receiver can be compensated for the costs of bringing a building up to code.

“There’s no advantage for a receiver to take too much time,” McGonagle said. “The sooner they get a building up to code, the sooner they can go back and petition the court to be compensated for their time, effort, material and labor.

“At that point if the owner doesn’t want to compensate the receiver, I believe the receiver can foreclose on the property,” he said. “That’s why a receiver is interested in being a receiver, as there is opportunity there. From the city side, it’s important for us to know where these receivership properties stand so that we can get them rehabilitated, rented and back on the tax rolls.’’

The condition of the building was the subject of numerous calls last spring by tenants who complained about conditions ranging from rodents and insects to missing window screens, leaky faucets, broken and trash that former tenants left but was never removed.

The city’s code team of health and safety inspectors noted a variety of violations and ordered the property owner, Michael DeLuca, to correct the violations. When he failed to comply with the request, the city brought the matter to the housing court.

Residents of the building complained to city health officials they had no heat, that their water and electricity were both shut off for a day because the owner didn’t pay his utility bills, and that the building was infested with bugs. They also complained of missing window screens, broken locks, missing switch plates, broken kitchen cabinet doors, exposed ceiling light fixtures, missing floor tiles and other issues they said made their apartments uncomfortable, unhealthy and unsafe.

According to city assessor records, DeLuca is still listed as the owner of the apartment building.