EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 15, 2012

Evictions begin at boarding house

By Keith Eddings keddings@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE — The court-appointed receiver running a South Union Street boarding house evicted 10 tenants last week, adding to the four he threw out the week before and the seven he hopes to evict this week.

Alan Hope, a local developer appointed by Lawrence District Court to manage the boarding house in July after its owners failed for months to correct scores of building and fire code violations, said the evictions are part of an effort to upgrade and renovate the boarding house and another on Common Street owned by the same New York landlord, Don Henry.

The city's Board of Health condemned Henry's boarding house at 575 Common St. May 16, displacing 60 people. A week later, board chairman Joel Gorn called the boarding house at 77 Union St. a "cesspool" of drug dealing and squalor and threatened to close it if Henry did not fix the health and fire code violations.

Instead, the board in July asked the Lawrence District Court to turn over the Union Street house to a receiver with power to evict unmanageable tenants, make repairs and send Henry a bill when it's all over.

“We're chipping away at an iceberg,” Hope said, describing the conditions he inherited. In one instance, Hope said that after repairing empty units on the third floor, several second-floor tenants went upstairs and “broke down the doors, poured glue down the toilets and threw syringes in the sinks.”

“Some of these people damaged the property,” Hope said about the tenants he's evicting. “They didn't pay rent. Some of them have (arrest) warrants. Some are drug addicts. There's a whole bunch of reasons (to evict them).”

Seven of the tenants Hope is trying to evict showed up Thursday morning in Housing Court, where a judge continued their case one week. The 10 who did not appear were ordered evicted, according to Bill Serel, who is managing the boarding house.

None of the 10 tenants whose eviction were approved in Housing Court last week could be reached after the hearing. At the boarding house later in the day, Nick Hantzis, the general contractor on the renovation, was installing a push bar on a lobby door, and tenant Gary Hilliard, a tenant for 12 years, was describing how conditions have improved since Hope took over.

"All the comforts of home," Hilliard said, sweeping his hand across his cramped but tidy one-room apartment on the third floor where he lives with his two cats, Lady and Remy, amid stacks of books and video games and a pile of Red Sox and Bruins caps. “It's comfortable. Quiet. Things that happened beyond my situation is not really my fault. I just stay focused on my path.”

Hilliard says he pays $500 a month for his room, which includes a shared bathroom down the hall.

Among the improvements so far, Hope said he has installed fire doors and extinguishers, hung new lighting in the hallways and filled six 30-yard dumpsters with furnishings, mattresses, refrigerators and debris from the rooms that are being renovated as they are emptied.

He's also posted an armed guard in the lobby, where signs taped to a window say visitors must show identification and be out by 8 p.m.

Repairs at Henry's Common Street boarding house have not begun because the building is empty and so the fixes are less urgent, Hope said. He said he is paying for the improvements out of his own pocket. When the repairs are completed and the buildings meet the fire and building codes, Hope can hand Henry the bills. If Henry refuses them, Hope can foreclose.

“I'm going to bring it up to code so that the tenants can live in a peaceful, safe place,” said Hope, who has restored several other buildings in the city as a court-appointed receiver, including on Haverhill and Butler streets. “I've gotten to know some of the tenants. I like them. They clean the bathrooms and hallways. They take pride in what they have. It's a rooming house and I want it to remain a rooming house.”

Hope meets twice monthly with Housing Court officials to discuss the progress he's made. He is scheduled to meet with the City Council on Tuesday.