Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A complex path to condemning homes

By Ian B. Murphy

Cities and towns have to enforce state building and health codes for homes, trying to keep citizens safe, sometimes from themselves.

But safety concerns often aren’t clear cut, and public employees must measure keeping residents safe with allowing them to live their lives, no matter how cluttered or odd their living situations might look from outside.

“This is one of those super-sensitive things, because you’re dealing with people’s property, and property rights,” said Natick Community Development Director Patrick Reffett. “There is a very fine line between that consideration, and recognizing that a property is no longer safe or sanitary, or stable. So much of it comes down to the judgment call of the health department director, the building commissioner and the fire chief.”

But the concerns are real. In March, an 85-year-old man died in his Wayland home after an extension cord sparked a fire in a stack of old newspapers. Town officials knew the home was cluttered and in disrepair, but the owner, Joseph Kozlowski, refused to let inspectors into his home on Gage Road. That clutter ultimately played a role in his death, Wayland officials said.

For local health departments, the tips about dangerous homes usually come from police or fire departments, said Sudbury Health Director Bob Leupold. He said the referral can come after emergency personnel visit the property on a call, or because someone calls in a tip.

“Usually a concerned neighbor notifies the police or fire department, and they refer it to us,” Leupold said. “But every case is different.”

Framingham’s Health Director Ethan Mascoop said just because there is a tip doesn’t mean a health department employee can walk onto a property and inspect a house..."  More

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