Owner plans to repair, reopen condemned Taftville apartments

Norwich — Tenants continued to move belongings out of two condemned Taftville apartment buildings Tuesday, as the New York City-based property manager said he hopes to start repairs this week and reopen the two six-unit buildings by mid-June.

City Assistant Building Official Greg Arpin condemned the two buildings at 458-468 and 470-480 Norwich Ave. on Thursday after finding multiple health, safety and structural deficiencies during an inspection of corrective electrical work also ordered by the city. The condemnation of the adjacent former Taftville mill housing buildings, both built in 1870, displaced at least 43 people — 22 adults and 21 children. Norwich Human Services is assisting them with finding new apartments.

Tenants Tim Plummer and Laura Musuro and their 19-year-old son, Seth Bromley, spent much of Tuesday loading a U-Haul truck with their belongings, but the truck will be headed to a storage unit rather than a new apartment. Musuro said the family is still trying to find an apartment and for now is living in Plummer’s father’s renovated attic.

“We have nowhere right now,” said Musuro, who has lived in the Taftville apartment since 2010. She said while the city put up families with young children at local hotels, her family had to find their own emergency housing. Her employer, Home Depot, paid for their initial two nights in a hotel, she said.

The two said they have had issues with their apartments for a while, and Plummer had to rip out the old kitchen floor and replace it himself. The old gas stove needs to be replaced, but Plummer said the gas couldn’t be disconnected because the valve was stuck and couldn’t be shut off. The opposite problem exists in the bathroom, where the toilet water valve is stuck in the nearly shut-off position, allowing just a trickle of water to flow through.

For the past two months, Plummer has been doing odd jobs for the property manager, Esteban Vargas-Marrero, but now, Plummer said, Vargas-Marrero won’t return his calls.

Plummer accompanied Arpin during his inspection tour into each apartment on Thursday and said the violations kept adding up. At one point, the inspector told him he and all the tenants would have to vacate the properties.

“I don’t blame them at all,” Plummer said of the city inspectors. “They’re just doing their job.”

Arpin found unsafe electrical connections, done without permits by unlicensed workers, overloaded electrical systems where electric heat replaced gas heat, and unsafe natural gas piping and appliances. Arpin said in two cases, natural gas heater pipes were corroded and venting directly into the basement, causing a carbon monoxide risk. The brick in center chimneys, used to support center girders, are failing and not supporting the girders.

Reached Tuesday at his New York office, Vargas-Marrero said he agreed with some of Arpin’s assessments, but not the gas ventilation. He said the two buildings no longer have gas heat, and those gas pipes no longer are in use, and there was no carbon monoxide risk.

Vargas-Marrero said many of the buildings’ problems predate the 2017 purchase of the properties by current owner Richmond Properties LLC of Richmond Hill, N.Y. Vargas-Marrero’s company, Jampaganza Management LLC, is the property management firm.

Vargas-Marrero said the new owners were addressing a number of issues ordered by the city, and spent about $75,000 on corrections, including $30,000 to repair a sewage backup in one of the buildings. More deficiencies continued to be discovered. More recently, he said a former on-site caretaker allegedly was collecting rent checks without authorization for four months and not paying contractors as instructed until she was fired in March.

Norwich police Lt. Chris Conley confirmed Tuesday that police are investigating the allegations and declined to comment further.

Although the two buildings are “not technically for sale,” Vargas-Marrero said, the city Building Department has been fielding calls and visits from landlords and potential developers asking what the properties need to reopen and expressing interest in buying them. Arpin made several copies of the condemnation letters for the department secretary to hand out after receiving repeated inquiries.

Vargas-Marrero said he plans to start repairs immediately, tackling one building at a time, starting with 458-468 Norwich Ave. He said preliminary estimates put the cost at a minimum of $5,000 per unit, with 12 units combined in the two buildings.

We are not letting this stop us,” Vargas-Marrero said of all the issues. “We want the tenants to come back. We want to make sure this is expedited as quickly as possible.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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