Ed Rodriguez wanted to turn the garage behind his Exchange Street home into an apartment for his daughter, her husband, and their child.
But he failed to clear his plans by the city first, and a dispute with a neighbor plus a city agency sweep of the neighborhood have put a pause on his hopes to increase the number of residential units on his property. At least, until he gets his permits in place.
On May 18, the city’s Building Department issued a notice of violation and order to abate to Rodriguez for illegally converting the back garage of his home at 174 Exchange St. into a living space.
The notice was issued on the same day that the Building Department, the anti-blight Livable City Initiative (LCI), and a handful of other city departments conducted a two-and-a-half hour coordinated public safety inspection walk throughout Fair Haven.
In addition to the unpermitted residential conversion on Exchange Street, the May 18 inspection has led to the Building Department issuing an illegal conversion notice for a property on Blatchley Avenue, two stop work orders on Blatchley and Dover Street, and an unsafe structure notice on Grand Avenue.
The Fair Haven walk was the second such interdepartmental sweep in recent months, with the first taking place in Newhallville last fall.
“There were not as many violations as you might think,” city Building Official Jim Turcio told the Independent on Monday about what he and his department had found during the May 18 sweep.
He said he had not yet heard back from Rodriguez or from the owner of the Blatchley Avenue property about remedying their illegal conversions. He said he would give those property owners a few more days to reach out to the city before tracking them down himself. He said the owner of the unsafe structure at Grand Avenue has been out of the country, but that that property owner had promised to board up the property by the end of the week.
Rodriguez and his wife purchased the colonial, late-19th century single family home on Exchange Street in 2006. A retired interpreter and registrar at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Rodriguez is also an avid handyman.
When this reporter arrived at his home, he was painting the two handrails that lead to his front door. His backyard is surrounded on all side by a three-foot border of planted vegetables and flowers.
Rodriguez said that he has long planned to convert the freestanding garage in his backyard into a living space for his daughter, her husband, and their child. He said his home is already crowded with him, his wife, his son, his son’s girlfriend, and his daughter.
“They really need a place to live,” he said about his daughter and her family, “because right now they don’t have a place.” He said his daughter and her family were currently staying with her mother-in-law next door. They had hoped to move into their own apartment, he said, but they couldn’t afford any of the places they looked at.
Rodriguez said after his daughter moved in with her in-laws, he decided to take on a tenant to live in the back garage, which he continued to work on. He hired a contractor to build an exterior stairwell leading to the garage’s second story. He pointed out he was in the process of building an annex to the garage in which to relocate the bathroom.
He said he didn’t know he needed to get the city’s approval to convert the garage into a residential unit. He said he has rented the garage to a tenant for the past few months; that tenant is in the process of moving to a new apartment ever since Rodriguez got hit with the violation notice by the Building Department.
Rodriguez said the Building Department learned about his illegally converted garage not necessarily because of the scheduled May 18 sweep, but because a disgruntled neighbor called the city on him.
The tornado from a few weeks ago knocked a large branch from a tree on his neighbor’s yard onto the roof of the garage. The branch then rolled down the roof and onto Rodriguez’s backyard.
“I was angry,” Rodriguez recalled. He said he had warned his neighbor for four years about the precarious tree, which he said was dead and had been hollowed out by squirrels.
Rodriguez said he picked up the branch from his yard and threw it over the fence onto his neighbor’s yard. He said that irked his neighbor enough that she called the city to tip them off to the illegally converted garage.
Rodriguez said that he plans on having a Building Department inspector come back to take a look at his property. He said he still plans to convert the garage into a dwelling unit for his daughter and her family. Now he just needs to get the right permits and pass inspection.
“It’s going to be for the use of my family,” he said.
May 18 also led to a flurry of other Building Department violation notices in Fair Haven, according to city land records.
The department sent a notice of violation and order to abate to landlord Cathy Lanfang Wei for illegally converting the basement of 274 Blatchley Ave. into an apartment without obtaining the required permits, inspections and approvals.
The department issued a stop work order to Anthony Ornato and Luis Ornato, Jr. for the unpermitted installation of a bathroom at 299 Blatckley Ave. The department issued another stop work order to Helmi Ali for unpermitted interior work being done at 220 Dover St.
At 135 Grand Ave., the Building Department issued an unsafe structure notice to Chandra S. Jakka and Fair Haven Plaza LLC for leaving a dilapidated single-story commercial structure at the corner of Atwater Street open to trespass through an exposed hole in the back of the building.
LCI Hits Newhallville
City land records show that LCI has also been active in Newhallville, issuing anti-blight citations to two derelict properties in Newhallville.
On June 4, the department sent a civil citation to Yi Chen Geema Sun and the Everest Realty Group LLC for failing to maintain their three-family property at 445 Huntington St.
The citation lists a variety of anti-blight ordinance violations, including dilapidated and decaying structure, exterior in blighted condition, unauthorized storage or accumulation of junk, and lack of property maintenance.
The citation levies a fine of $100 per day as long as the violations continue.
On May 17, LCI issued a similar citation to property owner Naomi Rabinowitz for a boarded-up, three-family home she owns at 558 Winchester Ave. through the holding company 558 Winchester Avenue, LLC.
The citation lists the same stock violation notices about dilapidated and decaying structure, exterior in blighted condition, lack of property maintenance, et The citation similarly levies a $100 fine for every day the violations continue.