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After Tenant’s Fall, Reyes Leaps To Landlord’s Aid

by Paul Bass & Thomas MacMillan | Jul 1, 2011 2:10 pm

(7) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Newhallville

Paul Bass Photo “I’m not a criminal,” a tearful 78-year-old retired schoolteacher said in court Friday while awaiting arraignment on 28 counts of code violations at a Newhallville property she owns.

Meanwhile, her niece lay in a hospital bed recovering from a fall from the property’s second-floor porch. And a prominent local developer who also happened to be in court stepped forward with an offer to finish fixing the property for free.

Those are the latest developments in a case that, in addition to its elements of personal drama, raises a still-unanswered question: How did the matter get to this point if authorities started trying to address it 18 months ago?

City housing inspectors and police have been after Joanne Keyes to fix up a house she owns at 94 Shepard St. since November of 2009. They even succeeded in having a warrant signed by a judge this March.

But by June 20, the warrant still hadn’t been served. The house’s second-floor porch remained in disrepair. And a 59-year-old woman who lives there fell 20 feet to the ground when the porch gave way.

The police then served the warrant that day and arrested Keyes, who lives elsewhere in the Newhallville neighborhood, on numerous counts of failing to keep up her property.

Holding back tears, Keyes, a former English teacher at Wilbur Cross High School, protested her innocence as she fingered a bead necklace and prepared to appear before Judge Joseph Licari in Courtroom A of the Elm Street state courthouse Friday. Licari (pictured) later transferred Keyes’ case to housing court. (Keyes asked not to have her picture appear with this story.)

Meanwhile this week, her niece lay in a bed in the Hospital of St. Raphael, barely able to talk, also fighting back tears and recovering from the broken ribs and brain swelling she suffered in the fall. The niece has long struggled with a chronic health problem; she gets treatment at the Connecticut Mental Health Center and has a visiting nurse help take care of her at home.

“I’m trusting in the Lord” for her recovery, her cousin, Daphine Shepard, said Friday. Shepard said her cousin has long struggled with substance abuse; she gets treatment at the Connecticut Mental Health Center and has a visiting nurse help take care of her at home. Keyes loves her niece and has helped her over the years, including allowing her for a time to live rent-free in the apartment, Shepard said.

Shepard was in court with her mother, Keyes, to help her with the court appearance. Shepard is a retired marshal who used to work in the same courthouse. She greeted old colleagues warmly and sought help shielding her mother from TV cameras waiting outside.

She found a more welcoming reception in the hallway from Angelo Reyes, a prominent Fair Haven developer. Reyes had happened to be in Courtroom A, too, for an appearance on charges of tampering with a witness in an arson case. (Reyes, too, said he has done nothing wrong.)

Reyes followed mother and daughter into the hallway after their brief appearance before the judge. He had heard about their case. He asked to see the list of violations outlined in the arrest warrant. They ranged from missing doorknobs and broken doors to peeling paint, filthy hallways and rooms, rodent infestation, inadequate lighting, and worn wiring to leaks, broken ceilings, and “free-falling windows.”

“Whatever it needs, I’ll fix it,” Reyes said. “It doesn’t look like a big list. They’re [inspectors] just doing their job. We’ll have the whole crew there on Tuesday.” Reyes said he’d do the job for free.

After Shepard exchanged information with Reyes in the court hallway Friday, she and Keyes thanked him for his generosity.

They turned to leave the courthouse. Then they saw the cameras outside. (WTNH had already shot footage inside the courtroom.)

Mother and daughter stepped back inside.

“Why are they doing this?” Keyes wailed. “I haven’t done anything.”

Shepard arranged for her mother to back inside to wait out the cameras while Shepard left to feed the meter. Along the way she admonished the TV reporters to treat her mother “the way you would treat your own mother.” She proceeded to Temple Street, where the car was parked.

“Oh God! They booted the car!” she exclaimed. “Jesus, keep me near the cross.”

She then headed to the tax office get the boot removed. She called the whole affair an unfair prosecution of her mother. “She didn’t do anything wrong,” Shepard said.

Warrant Gathers Dust

New Haven’s anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), disagrees.

According to an arrest warrant application, the problems at the three-family house on Shepard first came to the notice of the city’s Livable City Initiative in May 2009. LCI’s Mark Stroud, responding to a complaint, did an inspection of the premises. He found a slew of problems, from peeling paint and plaster to rodent infestation to exposed wiring and doors that wouldn’t lock. A weak or rotting porch railing was not on the list of findings.

On June 2, 2009, a state marshal delivered to Keyes an order to repair all the violations Stroud had found.

On Nov. 23, 2009, a reinspection of the property found that nothing had been repaired. A total of 37 violations remained. Those were listed on the affidavit that Stroud swore to on Jan. 6, 2010.

Thomas MacMillan Photo That affidavit was then submitted to state housing court, as is standard operating procedure, according to Erik Johnson, head of LCI. When people ignore calls to address housing code violations, it becomes a criminal matter, he said.

Next, the court put out a summons for Keyes to appear in court. She didn’t show, and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest, Johnson said.

LCI did what it could do given the situation, Johnson said. The items to be repaired did not rise to the level of having the building condemned or deeming it unsafe to occupy, he said. Had the violations occurred at, say, a house where tenants receive federal Section 8 subsidies, LCI could have ordered rent withheld until the repairs were made.

“We push the rock up to the cliff. It’s up to the court to take action,” at that point.

It took a while for state housing prosecutors to get the warrant signed. It wasn’t issued until March 3. It was signed by Judge Terence Zemetis, said Judith Dicine, a supervisory state’s attorney in housing court.

Paul Bass Photo Dicine said this week that she wasn’t familiar with the case. The prosecutor who is handling it, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Patrice Palombo, declined to discuss it Friday. Although she did say that once a warrant is signed, it’s up to the police to serve it.

Lt. Kevin Young, who handles records for the police department, said police currently have eight outstanding bench warrants issued from housing court. He said the department’s standard procedure is to send the warrants to the district manager corresponding to the wanted person’s address. It’s then up to the district manager to execute the warrant, Young said.

Newhallville’s current district manager, Lt. Thaddeus Reddish, said this week he had never seen the warrant or been told about the case.

The district’s previous manager, Lt. Rebecca Sweeney, was familiar with the case. She regularly visited Keyes’ niece, bringing food for her cats. She said the woman, while struggling with her health problems, held block parties and tried to be a good neighbor. Sweeney said she did know of the warrant and tried on several occasions to serve it.

Later on Friday the prosecutor’s office issued a gag order to the police on discussing the case.

Thomas MacMillan Photo Meanwhile, a visit to 94 Shepard St. this week found carpenter Luis Martinez preparing to put in a new railing on the second-floor porch. The wood he removed was visibly rotted. The floor was squishy underfoot.

The second-floor apartment was unoccupied. LCI’s Johnson said the hospitalized tenant, who lives on the third floor, would not be allowed to return until LCI determines the conditions are safe.

Tenants on the first floor, who declined to give their names, said they had have no problems with Keyes as a landlord.

“We will continue to work with the owner to make sure that the owner, under the direction of the state’s attorney’s office, to make sure that the improvements are being made to the property now that the owner is holding herself accountable,” Johnson said.

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Comments

posted by: Livesinfairhaven on July 2, 2011  12:44pm

I feel bad for Ms. Keyes but there is no way she wasn’t aware of these violations and she flagrantly ignored notices from the court and LCI.  She and landlords like her are a big part of the reason for declining property values in New Haven.  If she can’t take care of her property she needs to sell it to somebody who will

posted by: robn on July 3, 2011  10:52am

Angelo Reyes…

superhero or supervillain?

posted by: Snoopy on July 4, 2011  5:52am

Why was government money utilised to approve this apartment for section eight?  Does this person still have a job? Apartments have not met approval for not having enough electrical outlets in a room. Why was the porch not on list of violations?  This porch did not deteriorate to such unsafe conditions since LCI last inspection.  Although it was not on 3rd floor it to should have been considered a common area and hence inspected. Why was there no communication verbal or written between Sweeney and Lt. Reddish?  Is this why the gag order was put in place? To deny public info on PD deficiencies? ... This unfortunate situation is not Mrs. Keyes alone, though she had more than ample time to make repairs.  It involves failures of Section 8, LCI, and NHPD.  It could have been easily nipped in bud had Section 8 did their job initially. I question Reyes motive. This is not plea deal material. I pray for a speedy recovery of the victim.

posted by: Anon on July 4, 2011  10:44am

There are so many buildings like this in the city owned by landlords over their head who won’t face up to it.

Some are worse than that—I know one who blames her tenants for every single thing her bad land-lording causes, who retaliates if a tenant has to call police about the thugs she rents to, or even call them about her, because then police see the building and that brings building inspectors.

When police come, she behaves like the overwhelmed landlady who doesn’t know any better then whips up retaliation as soon as they leave. 

The retaliation doesn’t end even after you move out. She follows you with unceasing slander where you work. She doesn’t care. She plays for keeps.

There are property owners in this city who are a nightmare.They slip back into disrepair and other crimes and violations as soon as they are able and focus their energies on revenge instead of just running decent buildings. It’s everyone else’s fault but theirs.

One I know couldn’t keep the temperature of one of her units above 47 degrees and she whined and complained about the tenants in that unit ceaselessly, turned other tenants against them in whining emotional emails, cared nothing for the well-being of the tenants, only that if she didn’t do something she would get in trouble.

They finally fled the building—that’s how she does some of her self-help evictions, (when she isn’t actually changing locks on people she doesn’t like) nice and under the radar, coming off like an emotional wreck who isn’t really responsible for the barely disguised underlying beliefs she espouses or her actions.

They were visiting Yale fellows from overseas and that was their experience in New Haven, and America—what an ambassador she was for New Haven.

Her working assumption always, always, is that she is a property owner and tenants are mere tenants, riff raff who don’t matter and can’t accept their rightful place.

posted by: Livesinfairhaven on July 4, 2011  1:16pm

No Snoopy, the problem is not Mrs. Keyes alone - but it IS MOSTLY her problem.  Your comments read as if Sec. 8, LCI & NHPD are the culprits.  It’s HER PROPERTY, not theirs.

posted by: Snoopy on July 5, 2011  5:53am

To Livinginfairhaven:
Had Section 8 did their job the outcome had potential to have been different. A non recipient of section 8 would NOT have rented there with conditions as stated. LCI and the NHPD dropped the ball.  And they like Mrs. Keyes had more than ample time to do their jobs.  Why do YOU think the NHPD has a gag order in effect?

posted by: Pat from Westville on July 6, 2011  4:06pm

Snoopy,

This had nothing to do with Section 8 housing. The only mention of Section 8 appears in the following sentence:

  “Had the violations occurred at, say, a house where tenants receive federal Section 8 subsidies, LCI could have ordered rent
withheld until the repairs were made.”

It’s clear to me from this sentence that tenants at this house DID NOT receive Section 8. ....

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