The city temporarily condemned a Newhallville rooming house late Wednesday afternoon because of its damaged roof and non-functional fire protection system, forcing nearly a dozen adults and one small child to relocate to an area hotel for the night.
Officials from the fire department, the police department, and the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the city’s anti-blight agency, temporarily condemned the two-story, 12-bedroom duplex at 35-37 Shelton Ave. because of a variety of safety concerns, including a powerless fire alarm system, nine broken smoke detectors, three broken emergency lights, fire extinguishers that hadn’t been serviced in nearly three years, a mold-covered stairwell, and a damaged roof allowing water to leak into the second floor.
The 10 adult tenants at the rooming house were mostly men in their fifties and sixties, retired or laid off and living off disability. Some have been renting single bedrooms in the rooming house for upwards of a decade; one woman and her infant child had moved in less than a year ago. All 10 adults and 1 child were relocated to the Three Judges Motor Lodge on Pond Lily Road in Amity for the night.
The rooming house is owned by Yuri Seresin through his holding company Peoples Properties LLC. Seresin bought the property for $315,000 in 2006, according to land records.
Seresin did not respond to phone messages requesting for comment by the publication time of this article.
LCI Deputy Director Rafael Ramos and Fire Marshall Bobby Doyle said that they arrived at the house at around noon because of an anonymous complaint about the condition of the front porch’s stairwell.
When they got to the house, they saw that the five-step, concrete stairwell was indeed chipped and uneven. They started talking with some of the tenants hanging out on the front porch, took a look inside the building, and quickly found out that there were many more problems with the property than just the front stairwell.
Doyle saw an activated fire alarm pull station, and noticed that there was no sound or light alarm going off.
“I knew right then there was a problem,” he said.
Doyle listed what he saw next as he toured the house: The fire alarm panel in the front entryway had no power. All nine rooms he visited had missing or non-operational smoke alarms. The fire extinguishers in the building’s hallways had not been serviced since 2015. No rooms in the building had carbon monoxide detectors. Three of the four emergency lights were not working.
Ramos added that there was something wrong with the roof as well, likely a hole, leading to water leaks and a serious infestation of mold covering the stairwell wall leading up to the second floor.
Ramos also noted that the landlord’s rooming house license had expired three years ago.
“These are easy fixes,” Doyle said. “The landlord just can’t keep sucking money out of this place.”
He said the fire alarm system may have shorted because of the water leaks caused by the roof, but he said most of the problems he saw were the result of landlord neglect. He said that most landlords hire fire alarm companies to service their building’s fire protection systems once a year. That kind of routine maintenance, he said, would have easily kept the building up to code.
“It makes zero sense to me,” Doyle said about Seresin’s failure to maintain fire alarms, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers.
“This rooming house needs some serious attention,” Ramos said. He said his biggest concerns were with the fire detection and the roof. He said Seresin, who had come by the home earlier in the afternoon to meet with LCI and the fire marshall, had promised to send a company to fix the fire detection system by Thursday. Ramos said that, until the fire protection system is fixed, the tenants cannot stay in the building.
As they packed up their essentials and sat waiting on the front porch in the late afternoon sunlight, many of the tenants said that the conditions at 37-37 Shelton Ave. were not terrible, but they had gotten noticeably worse in recent years.
“It was OK for a good eight years,” said Raymond Gauthier, a 55-year-old former food service worker at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) who now lives on disability. “But he [Seresin] has been letting it go recently.”
Gauthier said he has lived in a second floor room for 10 years, paying $540 out of his $750 monthly disability check towards rent.
Talking with Doyle outside his room on the second floor, Gauthier said that a social worker is helping him try to get a room at Bella Vista. For now, all he can hope for is that Seresin brings the building back up to code so that he can keep his room, he said.
He said that, with the recent closing of the Hotel Duncan, a single room occupancy (SRO) building on Chapel Street that is slated to become a luxury university hotel, he could not think of any other rooming houses where he could get a room for so little rent. He said that he and Seresin are on good terms, and that Seresin occasionally lets him pay rent late if he can’t afford the full rent any given month.
“Where am I going to go if not another rooming house?” he asked.
Rodney Herring, 50, said he has been living in a first-floor apartment in the building for two years.
“I just got off work, and they told me the building’s not safe,” he said. “It’s an inconvenience, but it is what it is.”
A tenant who went by Chuck G said that he too lives on disability, and that he has spent the last 10 years at 35-37 Shelton.
“Just like any other place,” he said, “it’s had its ups and downs.”