Published August 13. 2013 4:00AM Updated August 14. 2013 12:02AM
Norwich - Five inspectors from the city building, housing and health departments inspected a condemned apartment building at 100 Main St. Monday after a couple reported last week that they gave a $1,825 deposit for an apartment in the building.
Inspectors met Monday with Norwich businessman Zane Megos, who told them he was the property manager for the building owned by West Hartford-based 100 Main Street LLC. Inspectors identified numerous housing and building code violations, including electrical work done improperly and without permits and a partially collapsed floor in a storage area of the building, Assistant Building Official Greg Arpin and Code Enforcement Officer George Gardner said.
The inspection and pending violation letters were prompted by a visit to the city Human Services and Building Departments last Thursday by Kristie Bojarski and Alan Frazier.
Bojarski and Frazier answered an online ad on Craigslist for a "beautifully remodeled" apartment with new carpets, skylights and chestnut beams and gave a deposit of $1,825 on Aug. 2 to Bobby Brown, who said he was the property manager.
Bojarski said Brown told them that the apartment had to be cleared by the building inspectors first but that it should be ready in about two weeks. On Aug. 8, they went to the Human Services office to apply for possible rental assistance, and a social worker there told them the entire building is condemned, not available for rent and not eligible for rental assistance.
They walked across Union Square to the building department, where Assistant Building Official Joseph East and city blight and housing inspector Edward Martin outlined problems with the building, which was condemned in January after a sprinkler system pipe burst and flooded the basement and electrical panels.
Bojarski called Brown while at the building office and he agreed to return their deposit the next day. Bojarski confirmed Monday that she received her money back. Martin also talked to Brown on the phone that afternoon and told Brown he should not be taking deposits for apartments that are condemned.
Brown on Monday insisted he did nothing wrong and said he informed the couple from the start that the apartment was subject to inspectors approval before they could move in. He said his attorney told him it was OK to take the deposit as long as he specified that the apartment had to clear inspection first.
"I told them that the building inspector had to come in first and had to reopen the building before they could move in," Brown said. "I told them maybe possibly two weeks."
Brown said he manages the property, does repair work, painting and maintenance work there.
Megos declined to comment on the issues Monday.
Megos faces several criminal larceny and related charges in New London Superior Court for allegedly taking rental deposits for apartments and houses in Norwich and New London that never became available, including some that were condemned.
Megos has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a pre-trial court appearance Sept. 25. As a condition of his release a year ago, a judge ordered Megos not to take deposits for apartments.
Inspectors said Monday it could take months of work before the four-unit building could reopen. Arpin said electric water heaters were installed in two of the units improperly and without permits. The installation work was never inspected by city officials. Electric heat also was installed improperly and without permits in all four units, Arpin said.
Arpin contacted the licensed electrician Megos told him had done the heating work, and the electrician said he did not do the work.
Inspectors also discovered washer-dryer hookups in closets without dryer vents.
Less serious violations were found throughout the building, Arpin and Gardner said, including cracked or broken windows, lack of screens, loose or missing hand rails. All four apartments either lacked smoke detectors or had insufficient smoke detection.
The floor where the residential units are located also was receiving ventilated air from the adjacent hallway, a fire hazard, Arpin said.
Fire inspectors did not attend Monday's inspection and told Arpin they would not return to the building until the sprinkler system is repaired by a licensed contractor.
Inspectors and Human Services Director Beverly Goulet said they are concerned by the repeated complaints they have received over the past few years regarding rental deposits paid for apartments in buildings associated with Megos - owned by companies either with ties to Megos or that he manages.
This is the second incident in the past month regarding 100 Main St. A woman came to the Human Services office seeking rental assistance in early July claiming she had paid a deposit for an apartment there. She too was referred to the building office and to Norwich police.
"Obviously this is extremely disturbing to us," Goulet said. "These are people who scrape together all the money they can and then they find out they can't move in. It's very difficult to stop it. … We'll make every effort to get the word out to people, but people moving into the community are unaware of the problems."
Goulet advised prospective Norwich renters to check with her office and the city Building Department before paying a deposit for an apartment. Inspection records are open to the public, and the Human Services office makes sure apartments have proper permits before certifying them as eligible for rental assistance, Goulet said.
"We don't let any money go out of here without checking," Goulet said.