The Recorder – Greenfield Health Dept. responds to rumors about condemned Coombs Avenue property

GREENFIELD — Public health officials have responded to rumors that a property condemnation decision last month was made in favor of the new fire station, which is set to be built on land adjacent to Coombs Avenue.

“The word on the street was that we did it because it was on the land of the future fire department, this house,” health director Jennifer Hoffman told the board of health at its last meeting. , referring to a post shared in at least two Facebook Groups regarding the property. “It was quite insulting to us at the Ministry of Health. … If something is not done correctly by a tenant, we act accordingly.

The property on Coombs Avenue has been owned by Charlestown-based Venture Residential LLC since June 2021, according to the Franklin County Deeds Registry. It adjoins land recently purchased by the city, located at 33–39 Main Street and 10–12 Coombs Avenue, where the new fire station is slated to be built. Venture Residential, LLC lists Elijah and Hosea Ketola as its principals, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Comments on social media – which came in response to a photo of the property showing heaps of trash bags piled up out front – suggested the Health Department’s decision to condemn the building was a way of possibly acquire to allow more space for the future fire station.

Hoffman said the Department of Health has been involved with the property — a multi-family home — since late last year, following various complaints and health code violations, including trash bags piling up on top. the property, the owner’s failure to repeatedly fill the oil tank for the heater, exposed wires, and other unresolved plumbing and structural issues.

In one case, a tenant called the health department to report that feces was seeping along the walls of the upstairs bathroom and into his bathroom.

“The owner was responsive at first, but since then hasn’t returned any of our calls, any of our letters,” Hoffman said. “There’s been trash – which he’s responsible for – that has been there, and now there’s a rat problem on this property and bugs.”

According to an inspection report filed March 31, tenants still had no heating, but trash had been picked up by a group of residents who also donated trash stickers. Hoffman said the home is typically occupied by three to four families, all of whom the city was able to temporarily house in a hotel, thanks to the Salvation Army, following the sentencing order.

“Tenants, lawyers…can’t reach this man,” Hoffman said of the landlord, adding that one of the tenants has filed a temporary restraining order with the Western Housing Court, which would require the owner to remedy the numerous violations. “If he does not appear in court, legal aid initiates criminal proceedings.”

Board of Health member Samantha McIver asked Hoffman what the next steps would be after the owner appeared in court on Thursday, to which she replied that it depended on whether the court compelled him to fix the issues or get away with it. he was going to criminal court.

“It just depends on how it plays out in the justice system,” Hoffman said.

She also told council members that in addition to proceeding with a restraining order, the city would also urge the landlord to house tenants until the issues are resolved.

“When I hear people say we’re on the side of the fire department, the amount of work and energy that has gone into this one property is unbelievable,” Hoffman said. “No one deserves to live the way these people live, and it has nothing to do with trash. We don’t condemn people for mere trash. We certainly don’t collude with any other ministry.

Conversations about property inspections in the future

In an update to the Board of Health on housing inspections in general, Hoffman said the department had conversations with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) about the possibility of requiring pre-rental inspections.

“We don’t hear that there’s a lot of negative feedback,” Hoffman told the Board of Health. “I think when we tell landlords this will benefit you – not just the tenant – they realize that could be a good thing, not a bad thing.”

She explained that currently the city conducts inspections of Massachusetts’ rental voucher program for Section 8 housing to ensure that apartments that were previously vacant are up to code.

Although the owners the Department of Health spoke with were initially surprised, she said, they were ultimately supportive of a move in this direction.

“It kind of gives (the landlord) the security that we know what the property looks like before we rent it out,” Hoffman said. “We don’t always know who is responsible for what. If you have it inspected before renting it, there is already a baseline for how to move forward.

Board of Health Chair Nancee Bershof asked about past resistance to pre-rental inspections, in part because of the fees associated with them.

“In the past, I think the city council had that concern,” Hoffman recalls. “I think having that idea and then writing a policy behind it and presenting it might be better and more structured… knowing the history of the housing market in Greenfield and the concerns we have. We now have data that we can show that this could be beneficial for owners. »

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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