Everett Rep. in Hot Seat over Apts.

May 25, 2012
By

An Everett state elected official who is also a Revere absentee landlord is getting some major grief this week after having been discovered to have numerous illegal apartment rife with serious code and safety violations.

Revere Fire officials came down hard on Everett State Rep. Steve ‘Stat’ Smith (D-Everett) after discovering 12 illegal apartments in two buildings that he owns on Yeamans Street – many of which did not even have smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors. This week, officials are still concentrating on the ongoing problem and are a bit disappointed with the lax response from the state rep.

“It’s so blatant; that’s what makes it so frustrating,” said Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty. “He said he had permits and we went to the Building Department and found out there wasn’t anything. We asked who he had been working with and he gave us the name of a retiree who hadn’t been in the Building Department for five years. There was nothing, no permits. It’s unbelievable.

“It’s kind of a slap in the face of Revere having an elected official from Everett come over here and do this,” he concluded.

Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Director Nick Catinazzo said that his department has been on the lookout for illegal apartments more than ever over the past few months, but they’ve never encountered anything like what they found at Smith’s property.

“We see a lot of properties with one illegal apartment, maybe two,” he said, “but 12 illegal units in two buildings – 12 units – that’s insane. We’ve never seen six on each side. He knows about these laws too. He owns a lot of property in Everett and should know all about this stuff. To us, it doesn’t matter what he is – a state rep or whatever – we don’t care about that.”

Attempts to contact Rep. Smith were not successful, though he did tell the I-Team on Channel 4 last Friday that he planned to cooperate and fix all the problems.

That, however, is not exactly happening with any measure of desperation, according to Doherty and Catinazzo.

“We told him he had to get a contractor in there immediately to fix the emergency problems or we would put a Fire Watch detail on the property,” said Doherty on Monday. “No one showed up on Friday morning, and I told him he had to have someone by 4 p.m. on Friday. He did get a contractor, but that contractor didn’t even do what we told them to do. We have our Fire Inspector there today and he will issue more violations until the emergency work is done correctly.”

Sources told the newspaper that Smith was apparently getting about $700 per unit and was most likely pulling in about $20,000 per month on the two buildings. Those sources, though, requested anonymity due to their closeness to the situation.

The situation broke on Thursday when the Fire Department was called to the properties at 26-28 and 30-32 Yeamans Street for a complaint about a smoke detector.

Once inside the property, the inspector couldn’t believe his eyes.

He immediately found six illegal apartments in one of the buildings, and another six in the other building. Both properties combined were supposed to have 12 units, and they had 24.

A quick scan of the file in the Building Department showed inspectors that no permits had ever been taken out to make the conversion, nor had any variances been granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to up the number of units in each building from six to 12.

On top of that, the building was missing many smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, emergency lighting and a hard-wired fire detection system – all of which are major safety violations for a multi-family home and violations that a state official should know about.

“There were never any permits pulled for six additional units in either of the buildings, let alone permits for six new bathrooms or six new kitchens,” said Doherty. “Just in the hallway alone, there were like six to 12 missing smoke detectors and blocked egresses and no emergency lighting. He’s a guy who probably voted for the new carbon monoxide detector law and he didn’t even have them on his own property. He put a lot of people in jeopardy.”

The story became highly exposed to the public when the I-Team featured it in a quick hit story on its Friday night broadcast.

On Monday, Catinazzo said an ISD team and the City Solicitor investigated the properties and determined that it wasn’t an emergency situation that would require the units to be evacuated.

However, Catinazzo said that 12 of the illegal units would have to be taken down in the coming weeks – just as any illegal apartment that is discovered.

“The ISD inspector indicated that the apartments were relatively clean,” said Catinazzo. “It wasn’t like a rat trap, but there were a lot of safety problems such as emergency lighting.”

Catinazzo also said they found a structural problem on one of the back porches, where it appeared the porches had been constructed without any supporting beams on the ground.

“It didn’t appear there were proper supports for the porch,” said Catinazzo.

He also indicated that there were no Certificates of Fitness for any of the apartments. Those certificate inspections are required by the Health Department before any apartment is rented in Revere.

“This is going to be a situation that continues for some time,” said Catinazzo.

At City Hall on Tuesday, ZBA Clerk John Henry and City Clerk Ashley Melnik both indicated they had not received any new applications from Smith to make the units legal.

Both also said they did not recall Smith coming before the ZBA or City Council in the past for permits to extend the existing non-conforming use at the buildings.

The only remaining question this week was what will happen to the numerous tenants in the illegal apartments that Rep. Smith had constructed.

Revere officials said they didn’t want to kick the families out to the street immediately, and Doherty said he believed Smith would be liable to find them new housing. However, Catinazzo said the City is exploring that question right now.

“It is a good question,” said Catinazzo. “That a part we’re going to have to address. That’s why we had the City Solicitor with us on the investigation. We need to answer the question about who will be responsible for all of the displaced people.”

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