Norwich inspectors discover family's apartment was condemned

Norwich - City inspectors were called to a Talman Street apartment Tuesday for housing complaints and soon learned that the mother and three young children there were living in an apartment that had been condemned in January 2011.

Director of Inspections James Troeger said Thursday that the family will be allowed to stay at the first-floor apartment at 123 Talman St. through the weekend to have time to find another home. The city Human Services Department is assisting the family.

"They have heat, so we'll let them stay a little longer," Troeger said. "It's not dangerous at this point, but it was an illegal use."

The house, owned by Elissa Speer, is legally a two-family house, but the Jan. 11, 2011, condemnation letter stated that one of the first-floor apartments was created illegally "without permits, inspections and approvals." Inspectors on Tuesday found a "for rent" sign posted at the illegal apartment.

The apartment where Carlena Hall lived with her twin 5-year-old girls, Marlena and Audrena Downing, and her 10-month-old son, Marquice Downing Jr., was condemned at that time as well. The violation letter cited open walls and baseboard radiators lacking covers, among other problems.

"Reoccupancy of the first floor will not be allowed until the illegal apartment on the first floor is resolved and compliance with the Property Maintenance Code of the city of Norwich is obtained," the letter states.

Troeger said his office never heard back from the owner. While Elissa Speer is listed on city tax records as the owner, inspectors and the tenant said Norwich landlord and real estate agent Sheri Speer ran the property.

Sheri Speer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Hall said Thursday she had no idea that the apartment had been condemned two years earlier. She said when she first moved in, she wrote down repairs that were needed for the property handyman. But no repairs were done, and when her son burned himself on the exposed hot-water heating pipe on Sunday, she called the city housing department to complain.

"This is my first apartment," Hall said. "I paid everything on my check."

She said she now has no place to go. She had hoped to move out of the apartment after December - she paid the full month's rent - but never expected to have to move "right before Christmas." She said her mother and other family live in the area, but are struggling and can't take her family in.

Hall, who works at the McDonald's on Salem Turnpike, hopes to find a new apartment in the same area so her daughters can continue to attend Veterans' Memorial School.

Janice Thompson, a social worker at Norwich Human Services, met with Hall Thursday to discuss relocation options. Once the family provides proof of residence, by state law, the city will assist the family to find a new apartment and will place a lien for the maximum $4,370 relocation costs on the property.

c.bessette@theday.com

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