Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Decadent Crown Jewel

11 Phillips Street, Amherst/UMass border

Since Stephan Gharabegian is the "King of the Decadent Street", owning almost half the hovels on Phillips Street, the slum capital of Amherst & UMass,  I hereby dub (dripping in sarcasm) 11 Phillips Street his crown jewel

Exhibit A:  The most recent Board of Health investigation report that found 11 Phillips Street to be "in violation of the Minimum Standard of Fitness for Human Habitation."

11 Phillips St Health Dept report

Exhibit B:  The most recent Amherst Fire Department investigation citation that found dangerous shortcomings in fire safety requirements and flagrantly ignoring an order to stop using a one-family dwelling (maximum of 4 unrelated tenants) as a boarding house with 13 tenants.

An overcrowded abode, lots of alcohol and defunct fire alarms is a sure fire formula for catastrophe.

11 Phillips St AFD Ticket

And clearly, a recent Worcester Housing Court decision reaffirms the ability of cities and towns to enforce unrelated tenant zoning restrictions.  The town has known about the overcrowded conditions at 11 Philips since at least last June when the Health Department did their inspection.

Yet when Amherst police raided the address on October 30, to shut down an illegal basement bar, that busload of students still lived there.  The town needs to get serious about overcrowded illegal living conditions.  Before a tragedy occurs.


Anonymous said...

They are obviously very lax with inforcing this stuff. The kids living there think it's a joke. The owner could care less. It's an accident waiting to happen. Then all hell will breaks loose and someone gets injured or killed, lots of law suits will get filed and accusations on how society failed these poor college kids. Cry me a river...not.

Anonymous said...

Remember, if you don't want UMass students to burn to death, it's because "YOU HATE YOUNG PEOPLE!"

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, and I 'm so freakin old I've forgotten how to have "fun".

Dr. Ed said...

How many college kids have been arrested for noise ordinance violations over the past 18 months or so?

How many landlords have been arrested (or even summoned into court) for this sort of stuff?

Need I really say more?????

Stormin Norman said...

While you can blame the students for this one, especially the bar, it is solely the town's failure to ensure this scenario doesn't happen elsewhere.

Firstly the town offers no protection against upward rent, while limiting the number of unrelated tenants who can split the costs. In an 8 bedroom house having 8 unrelated individuals hardly is a firehazard... so students are forced to move in an illegal amount of roommates just to have somewhere affordable to live.

Not to mention; why was this inspection not done earlier? Sure the AFD and APD may not be able to know how many students live there illegally, but the list of charges in the report shows the town concentrates too much on busting parties and far too little on ensuring decent living standards. The town needs to be sure that it will enforce housing standards with stiff penalties to the landlords/housing thieves if they fail to provide adequate homes

Dr. Ed said...

Reading the reports, I can't help but wonder how much worse the rental housing in Amherst would be today if I hadn't been doing some of the things I was doing nearly a decade ago.

Larry, I was dealing with gas leaks, collapsing roofs, front doors to apartments that wouldn't latch let alone lock, etc. Toilets in bathtubs (with open/unplugged sewer hole, methane is explosive), sewerage flowing across lawns, home heating oil flowing across basement floors like blood (it's dyed red), toilet sewerage dripping down onto the head of the person sitting on the toilet on the floor below (that actually was common), birds nesting above bathroom fans, and "creative wiring" of all sorts.

Two words: Aluminum wiring. Much of Amherst was built/remodeled in the two years it was allowed, and it is a problem -- exacerbated by nearly four decades of people who don't understand wiring trying to repair it. My personal favorite was the green ground wire being used as the hot wire, with the neutral side of the outlet connected to a water pipe.

In one case, the AFD had broken open the front door because the adjacent unit was on fire -- perfectly legitimate -- but this had happened six months earlier and it was still hanging somewhat sideways on its hinges - open to the elements and everyone else.

And the worst gas problem was traced to pinholes in the flexible lines feeding the driers in the laundry room. The landlord blamed the tenants, I said that I didn't care -- there was so much gas that it was giving me headaches, worse every time I went int here, and I bluntly stated that the building would not reek of gas.

Those who hate me, who want to mock me, -- well I don't care. I accomplished something worthwhile and I actually "walked the walk" on this social justice stuff.

And rather than the 4-unrelated rule, might I suggest a better one to go with? 105 CMR 410 sets out a per-occupant minimum square footage requirement in both bedrooms and the total unit. This is neutral and non-disputable (and recognized by MCAD) and you can easily say what the limit of human beings allowed to live in a unit is.

It also sets out what is a permissible bedroom if you don't have sprinklers -- and almost no basement room will count. Again, no fight over who is related to whom, no human may sleep down there.

But like I said above, how many landlords have even been dragged into court recently?

Anonymous said...

Well said Ed. Richard Marsh

Anonymous said...

And the landlords threaten the tenants with eviction or raised rents if they tell of the deplorable conditions. Not since the demise of the Housing Review Board has there been any real pressure on landlords to provide adequate housing for the rents that they collect. It is left to their conscience -- which is o.k. for the majority -- but the minority of unscrupulous landlords puts everyone in jeopardy.

Dr. Ed said...

And the landlords threaten the tenants with eviction or raised rents if they tell of the deplorable conditions

They often don't even have to go that far -- they are dealing with people who honestly don't know their rights, many who aren't even from Massachusetts and hence don't even know whom to ask about their rights.

I have had college kids ask me if it was true that the landlord didn't have to repair the furnace (which had stopped working) or totally ignore a leaking roof until the lease expired the next summer.

I know a major management company (NOT affiliated with Jones) that tells tenants that the tenants themselves must replace the batteries in their smoke detectors. That was somewhat embarrassed when there was a minor fire in a unit and AFD noticed that the detectors in half the other units didn't have batteries in them, which of course they blamed on the tenants....

I had the executive director of a housing authority (we won't say which one) ask me what the laws were relative to having smoke detectors because her college-aged children were living in an apartment that didn't have them. After reciting the law, I added "but if they were my kids, I would just go down to Walmart, get three of the battery-operated ones and a screwdriver, and go put them in myself, today."

That's how bad it is. And what people don't realize is that smoke detectors wear out after 8-10 years or so, quicker in damp environments, and become so hypersensitive that the kids take the batteries out of them. That's what happened in the fire down by Puffer's Pond -- AFD recovered a smoke detector but it had no battery in it.

And I would have had a lot more respect for the Amherst municipal authorities (Stephanie, are you listening?) if they were a little bit more supportive of both students and ESL tenants with these sorts of problems.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that Dr. Ed is more than one person?

I ask because it seems impossible to cram that much wisdom and experience into one lifetime. How does he do it? Perhaps "he" is actually "they"? I'm just asking

Larry Kelley said...

I feel very safe in saying, there's only one Dr. Ed.

Anonymous said...

From "The Road to Wigan Pier" by George Orwell:

"The Scotch miner was a bore when you got to know him. Like so many unemployed men he spent too much time reading newspapers, and if you did not head him off he would discourse for hours about such things as the Yellow Peril, trunk murders, astrology, and the conflict between religion and science."

Why does this character sound so familiar? Hmm...

Anonymous said...

Larry the solution is need to move to Philips St and start dispensing justice.

Larry Kelley said...

Actually I have heard that Mr. Gharabegian is looking to sell.