EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 11, 2013

City plansto flatten problem buildings

Council approves razing four homes with rodents, safety issues

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The wrecking ball cometh.

City Council voted last night to demolish four of five homes on a list of Haverhill’s most deteriorated and dangerous abandoned buildings.

Mayor James Fiorentini requested the council’s permission to demolish the structures, saying they are the worst abandoned buildings in Haverhill and are hurting property values in neighborhoods.

The properties up for demotion are: 18 Warren St., 5 Cypress St., 2 Tyler Ave., 36 School St. and 16 Margerie St. The council held separate public hearings on each one last night to give interested people a final chance to save their buildings.

Three people showed up to attempt to save their properties from the wrecking ball. One succeeded — for now.

James Cleary, a local attorney for Brian Langlois, who co-owns the School Street home, told councilors his client recently signed a letter of intent with a buyer to sell the property. Cleary said a problem with the deed has delayed the transaction, but that he expects the matter to be resolved in a month or so.

Building Inspector Richard Osborne said Langlois has worked with the city to board up the home. The council voted 8-0 to postpone the matter until the council’s Jan. 24 meeting.

Kevin McCarthy, who identified himself as an employee of a local management company trying to rehabilitate and sell the Tyler Avenue and Warren Street buildings, was less successful.

Osborne said both those buildings have been abandoned and open to intrusion for more than a year, and that both are infested with rodents and are fire hazards. The Tyler Avenue home has a collapsed ceiling and leaky roof, Osborne said.

McCarthy said both properties have been held up in litigation and that, until recently, his company had been prohibited from entering either building to secure and maintain them. But, as a result of the city’s notice that it planned to demolish the buildings, a court recently gave the company permission to enter the homes for the purpose of boarding them up, McCarthy said. He asked the council to delay its decision until February to give his company time to rehabilitate the homes and attempt to sell them.

“I am here tonight to say they are not abandoned and we are not walking away from these buildings,” McCarthy told the council.

Osborne told councilors he has no sympathy for McCarthy. He said he cited McCarthy’s company for problems with the buildings three or four times in the last year, but that no one bothered to respond.

“On June 6, 2012, we ordered them to board the building, and it’s still open to intrusion today,” Osborne said of the Tyler Avenue home.

The council voted 8-0 to approve the mayor’s request to knock down both buildings.

Despite that action, McCarthy and the other owners still have 90 days to save their buildings, Osborne said. He said there’s a 30-day appeal window, and then it takes at least another 60 days after that before the building will be razed.

In order to get a property removed from the demolition list, the owner must show the city a detailed rehabilitation plan and prove that it has the money to do the work, Osborne said. Fiorentini said the city does not want to demolish any buildings in which the owners truly plan to fix them in a timely manner.

If the city goes ahead and demolishes any of the buildings, it would pay to demolish them and then attach a lien on the properties to recoup the cost, Osborne said. The city would get the money back when the property is eventually sold or the city can go to court to seize the property and sell it, he said.

A man who said he purchased a lien on the Cypress Street home also tried unsuccessfully to save that building from the demolition list. William Morse of New Hampshire said he did not own the property yet, but that he is in the process of acquiring it. He said he has paid all the taxes on the property and recently cleaned up the yard, but that he can’t enter the home to secure it until he has legal ownership. Morse asked for a delay until spring, but the council refused.

Osborne said the property is open to the outside, has mold, is infested with rodents, has had vagrants living in it and is a fire hazard. He said it has been abandoned since 2010 and is in such poor condition that it would likely need to be demolished by any new owner anyway.

“It’s been an eyesore for three years and it’s not fair to the neighbors,” Osborne said.

No one contested putting the Margerie Street home on the demolition list. Osborne said it also has been abandoned and open to the elements for about three years. He said the property is owned by a California bank, which has ignored the city’s letters about the property.

Andrew Herlihy, who works in the city’s planning office, said the home is in a nice neighborhood and that the city has fielded many complaints about it from neighbors.

“This is a classic foreclosure case,” Herlihy said. “It’s owned by an out-of-state bank that’s not interested in it because it has little real estate value, even if it was renovated.”

The mayor’s push to demolish the buildings is part of the city’s new and aggressive effort to clean up deteriorated properties in the city. Fiorentini has estimated there are at least 100 such properties in the city. These would be the first buildings demolished under the mayor’s administration that weren’t damaged by fire, he said.

Earlier this year, City Council passed an ordinance requiring absentee owners — often a bank or similar entity that holds a mortgage on the property — to pay $250 to register their buildings with the city. The owners are subject to fines of up $300 per week if they don’t register or if they fail to provide basic maintenance on a property once it is uninhabited.

The city has also been going to court to ask judges to appoint receivers to take over and repair some abandoned buildings. Some buildings, such as the ones the city plans to knock down, aren’t good candidates for that program, however, because they require too much work, officials said.