Lawrence landlord ordered to find tenants other housing – violations include water damage & mold – RMF Trust

“When asked by The Eagle-Tribune to provide proof of all past repairs, Faiella said she would fax copies, but never did.”

“Peter Arvanitis, inspector with the city’s Inspectional Services Department, did not find any permits had been pulled for the roof repair.”

“According to court documents, Faiella hired Service Master cleaning service to remove the water-logged carpets, pick up debris, dry surfaces and cover open ceilings with plastic.”

“But not all the work was done, according to city inspectors. In some apartments, walls were gutted and left exposed, and window casings and ceilings were not repaired, they said.”

April 19, 2010
By Yadira Betances

LAWRENCE — A Lawrence District Court judge has ordered a trust that owns an apartment building riddled with code violations to provide alternative housing for tenants.

The judge also ordered the trust to return all rent payments and deposits to tenants until repairs are done.

Judge David Kerman issued the order on April 8 after seven residents of 285 Essex St., took RMF Trust to Northeast Housing Court alleging it hadn’t fixed problems in the century-old building.

Since the judge’s ruling, an eighth tenant, Stephanie Lozada, also has filed a complaint against RMF Trust.

Violations include water damage from a previously leaky roof; walls, ceiling and carpets damaged by water; ceiling tiles missing in bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms; and problems with mold, mice and bed bugs.

In a telephone interview from Cape Coral Fla., Suzanne Faiella, who manages the trust, said the accusations are false. “We’ve always taken the utmost care of our buildings,” Faiella said, “and I’m proud of the property that I manage.”

She said the building was in “pristine” condition before the heavy rains and wind that caused flooding throughout the region last month.

Faiella said the trust had remodeled the apartments with new coats of paint and carpets within the past three years. She said the trust also resurfaced the roof on March 17, 2009.

When asked by The Eagle-Tribune to provide proof of all past repairs, Faiella said she would fax copies, but never did.

Peter Arvanitis, inspector with the city’s Inspectional Services Department, did not find any permits had been pulled for the roof repair.

“She has to do something with that building,” Arvanitis said. “It poses a potential fire hazard because of the water and electricity.”

Faiella will be summoned to court to respond to the building code violations found by the city’s inspectors, Arvanitis said.

According to records in the city’s assessor’s office, RMF Trust purchased the four-story building in 1997 for $22,000.

The building, which was built in 1900, has 14 apartments and two storefronts. Of that total number of units, only one of the apartments is unoccupied, Faiella said.

Explaining the damage

Faiella said the hurricane-force winds during the storm lifted a piece of the roof, causing water to seep into the apartments.

She said she had ordered a contractor to patch the roof and put on a tarp to stop the water from coming into the units. The wind and heavy rain from the second storm blew away the temporary patch on the roof, she said.

“The rubber roof was like a sponge and it leaked, producing more damage and destruction,” Faiella said.

According to court documents, Faiella hired Service Master cleaning service to remove the water-logged carpets, pick up debris, dry surfaces and cover open ceilings with plastic.

But not all the work was done, according to city inspectors. In some apartments, walls were gutted and left exposed, and window casings and ceilings were not repaired, they said.

Tenants said the problems are not new. In Lozada’s apartment, there is a cracked ceiling that’s crumbling, dirty and smelly carpets and mold, as well as a hole on a closet door, according to court documents. The toilet is cracked, the documents show.

Insurance issues

Faiella said her hands are tied because the trust’s insurer has refused to pay for the roof repairs and even canceled the policy after a claim for repairs was made. She said she has sought help elsewhere, including from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to no avail.

“It’s not that I don’t care, but the insurance company that we’ve been paying for has made this impossible,” she said.

Faiella said the sluggish economy has been difficult on RMF Trust and her tenants. She said several tenants owe back rent because they have lost their jobs.

“Everyone is in a financial strain right now. Believe me, if I had any money anywhere, I’d been more than happy to put them up in a hotel,” she said. “We’re just at a loss and it’s out of everyone’s hands.”

The property was assessed for $732,500 in 2009.

Faiella said RMF Trust, which owns the building in the heart of downtown Lawrence, does not have money to pay for lodging for the tenants or make the repairs. She refused to name the family or organization behind the RMF trust, which she manages.

“I feel good about the judge’s ruling,” said Lucianne Fontanez, who lives there with her two daughters. “But she’s still holding on to our money, and we’re waiting to see if she’s going to appear in court.”

The tenants will return to court this coming Thursday, April 22.

eagletribune.com

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