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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Norwich looks to shut down boarding house, tenants not sure where they will go

    Andrew Moore talks on the phone as he sits on the stoop at 39-41 Cliff St. in Norwich on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Building inspectors have condemned the building, which they say is being run as an illegal boarding house, but are trying to work with the property manager to return it to a four-unit apartment house. “It’s so hard to find a place to live right now,” said Moore, who moved to the building about a month ago. “I just found this place. I don’t know how I’m going to find another.” (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich building inspectors have condemned 39-41 Cliff St., as seen on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, which is being run as an illegal boarding house, but are trying to work with the property manager to return it to a four-unit apartment house. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich building inspectors have condemned 39-41 Cliff St., as seen on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, which is being run as an illegal boarding house, but are trying to work with the property manager to return it to a four-unit apartment house. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich ― About 14 people who live in what the city calls an illegal downtown boarding house are not sure where they will live after learning the city plans to condemn the property at 39-41 Cliff St. due to safety and housing violations.

    Zoning regulations do not allow rooming houses, which feature locks on each bedroom door and separate rents for the occupants. Recent inspections at the three-story house also found safety violations, including a stuck rear exit door, a dilapidated rear staircase needed as an emergency exit, and a lack of smoke detectors. The house also is not registered as an apartment building as required by the city.

    The house is listed on city records as a four-unit apartment house, but city officials estimate 14 people live there, renting separate rooms.

    City inspectors delayed closing the house until Tuesday to allow time to reach an agreement with the owner and property manager and so tenants could meet with city human services officials to find emergency relocation or alternative housing. The house is owned by Cliff Street Construction LLC of Darien, run by Jaspal Juj, a real estate manager who has purchased numerous Norwich rental properties in recent months.

    Tenants who gathered on the house’s front and side porches Tuesday afternoon remained confused, frustrated and angry at both the owner and city officials for lack of communication. The sign on the door still listed Monday as the closure date, and the residents said they had no place to go.

    Tenant Tracey Bertrand said he and Monica Mailly share one room and moved to the house in March after having lived there before. They said even under the former owners, the house was used as a boarding house with individual rooms rented. They said they are looking for another apartment but had no prospects.

    Mailly is seeking donations on gofundme.com to help her and Bertrand afford a new apartment.

    Tenant Armand Forand said he moved in two months ago and paid in advance. Forand was adamant he would fight any eviction and would insist on getting his money back.

    “If somebody tells me I gotta be out on the street, I’m not going quietly,” Forand said.

    The condemnation notice stated utilities would be shut off if the building is ordered closed.

    Norwich Human Services officials met with several of the tenants on Monday to take their information and see how various emergency housing assistance funds could help. Human Services Director Kate Milde said rental condemnation relocation assistance might not be available if the tenants were living in an illegal housing situation. But she said her agency has other emergency housing funds available through United Way, the federal American Rescue Plan Act and her agency’s own assistance budget.

    Bright yellow condemnation letters were posted on the front door of the house Friday, initially ordering the house to be closed on Monday. But Building Official Dan Coley and Milde said the city extended the deadline through the weekend and into Tuesday to work on some of the issues.

    Assistant Building Official Chris Burger who conducted the inspections, said he was in contact Tuesday afternoon with property manager Carrie Arteaga to propose an immediate compromise. Burger said if some of the quicker corrections were made, two of the apartments could remain open. Burger asked the owner to find temporary housing for any displaced tenants.

    Coley said city regulations allow up to five unrelated adults to share an apartment. If tenants agreed to share an apartment, they could remain in one of the units, but would have to live as a group, not in separate, locked bedrooms.

    “It seems like we will be working with the property manager on this,” Burger said Tuesday afternoon.

    Arteaga and Juj could not be reached to comment Tuesday.

    Burger said the city received a complaint that the building was an illegal boarding house at 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 31. He inspected the house on Tuesday, Sept. 5 and issued the violation notice last Thursday.

    Three tenants, Calil Adelson, Belini Aristil and Charles Dorleans, said they would agree to share an apartment. Adelson said he rented a room in the house since 2019, and Aristil has lived there since 2021, both under previous house ownership.

    As Norwich Human Services case workers met with tenants Monday for possible housing assistance, Milde was on the phone with representatives from nonprofit human services and housing agencies for broader issues involved in the situation.

    Milde said some of the tenants at 39-41 Cliff St. were assisted in moving there by outside agencies. Milde said she will recommend changes in policies that would call for housing assistance agencies to first check with city housing and Human Services departments to make sure an apartment or house meets city housing, fire and safety regulations before moving someone there.

    Human Services, housing and fire inspectors and Norwich Public Utilities officials meet monthly as the Housing Management Team to discuss specific buildings and tenants’ issues and find solutions. Milde said she will invite representatives from outside agencies and housing nonprofit groups to the next Housing Management Team meeting to discuss the issue.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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