EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 13, 2012

Infested apartments now clean, repaired

Neighbors' complaints about unsanitary conditions end

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — Nine months ago, families living in apartments at 34 Grand Ave. complained repeatedly to the city about rodents and bugs in the building, a lack of heat and water and other problems.

Now, there is not a peep about any trouble there, city health officials said.

They said the unsafe and unsanitary conditions have been solved by a company that was appointed as the building’s receiver — giving the company power to spend rental payments to make improvements to the property.

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.

The condition of the building was the subject of numerous calls in the spring by tenants who complained about conditions ranging from rodents and insects to missing window screens, leaky faucets 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 warned the owner of the building, Michael DeLuca, that if he didn’t correct the violations, the city would seek to have a receiver take control of the building. When he failed to comply with the request, a receiver was appointed, officials said.

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.

City inspectors were notified in September that a bank intended to foreclose on the property, but as of yesterday the city had not been informed of the bank’s intentions. DeLuca was still listed as the owner of the building, city health officials said.

“The last complaint we received was in May,” Dufresne said yesterday, adding that Avatar Properties was expected to go before a judge yesterday in the Northeast Housing Court in Lawrence to report on progress being made to address the violations. The results of that status hearing were not available in time for this story.

Dufresne said that on July 5, Northeast Housing Court Judge David Kerman appointed Avatar Properties, 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.

In July, Dufresne said Avatar was in the process of addressing sanitary code violations that DeLuca failed to address. She said at time that three truckloads of trash were removed from both inside and outside of the building, the building was exterminated, a gas leak was repaired, and a new fire alarm and sprinkler system was being worked on in conjunction with the Fire Department.