Rooming house owner 'demands' city revoke condemnation, compensate for lost rental income

Norwich — The owner of a rooming house at 41 Boswell Ave., condemned on Jan. 2, railed against city inspectors during an appeal hearing and demanded that the city revoke the condemnation, compensate him for rental losses and “punish those greedy contractors and the people behind them.”

Owner James Liang of Flushing, N.Y., also asked the Building Code Board of Appeals on Friday to remove all city liens on the property — relocation liens to pay for emergency housing for tenants after the condemnation — and revise the lengthy list of required repairs.

Liang blamed Assistant Building Official Greg Arpin and a heating contractor who had replaced the boiler in the building in November. He alleged that Arpin wanted to protect the “greedy contractors” rather than protect the tenants from the unsafe conditions Arpin reported he and city health and fire inspectors found the morning of Jan. 2.

Board Chairman Robert Phoenix told Liang that many of his complaints and demands were beyond the scope of the board and would have to be addressed through civil action or through other city administrative channels. The board also would have no authority over the relocation liens on the property.

The five-member board took no action on Liang’s appeal Friday and scheduled a special meeting to take action for 4 p.m. Thursday at the city planning office, 23 Union St.

Arpin condemned the 12-unit rooming house Jan. 2 after responding to tenants' complaints of lack of heat and frozen and burst pipes. Arpin said he discovered numerous other violations and contacted Norwich Fire Marshal Mark Guilot and Uncas Health District inspector David Coughlin, who concurred with the decision to condemn the building. All three testified at Friday’s hearing, and Arpin submitted numerous photos depicting conditions that led to the condemnation.

The inspectors said two bathrooms were inoperable because of frozen and broken pipes, several doors were damaged and would not close or latch and there were “excessive combustibles” in common areas of the building. Because of lack of heat in some rooms, tenants were using space heaters. Tenants were ordered to vacate the building that morning and were assisted by the city Human Services Department, which arranged for local hotel rooms for several days.

Liang told the board that during the 11 years that he has owned the building, he has received numerous calls and violation notices from city building, health and fire inspectors. Each time, the inspectors allowed him time to correct the problems, which he did, including one sewer problem ordered to be corrected immediately.

He said inspectors should have allowed him time to correct the problems on Jan. 2, as well. He said tenants caused a lot of the damage, removing metal doorknobs and other hardware to sell to scrapyards. He said tenants also collect “junk” from the neighborhood and pile it up in the building.

Phoenix told Liang that the building inspector has the authority to condemn a building without advanced notice if he finds conditions he deems unsafe and too extensive to be corrected immediately.

Arpin testified that the building is in worse shape now. Inspectors returned to the house on Jan. 8 with Liang, and the damage had worsened. Arpin said he had left the heat on in the building to prevent further pipe bursts and to protect several cats belonging to tenants. But Arpin said the furnace had been switched off by someone at some point between Jan. 2 and the re-inspection Jan. 8, causing extensive frozen and burst pipe damage. He had asked Norwich Public Utilities to shut off power to the building, because space heaters in some rooms were dangerously close to bedding.

Although the board did not rule on the appeal, Phoenix suggested to Liang that since he does not live locally, he should hire a supervisor to manage the building and better screen tenants. Board member Henry Olender said he understands that tenants can cause damage to apartments, but it remains the landlord’s responsibility to ensure the building is safe.


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