BELLOWS FALLS—Over the last two years, the Rockingham Selectboard and the Bellows Falls Village Trustees have been grappling with unsafe housing issues in the village, trying to address them through fire and safety codes.
In some cases, aging housing stock built during the boomtown days in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of this former mill town has not been properly maintained.
The problem has been made worse by absentee landlords who have been unable to maintain these older buildings.
Caught in the middle, between municipal authorities trying to enforce building codes and landlords who say they can’t afford to maintain their properties, are the tenants, many of whom are having trouble finding safe and affordable places to live.
For the 20 people who lived on 42 Green St. who lost their apartments last week when the town issued an Emergency Health Order that forced their eviction, the future is uncertain.
How did this eviction happen, an eviction that tenants say they received no warning of until a couple of weeks ago?
According to the property manager, Jim Elsesser of Alstead, N.H., the three-story building that houses three 3-bedroom apartments is owned by Veronica and Scott Cooper of Pinecliffe Holdings LLC of Plymouth, Mass., and Golden, Colo.
According to Elsesser, the landlords told him they needed the rent from all the tenants to make their mortgage on the building.
When, according to Elsesser, one of the tenants stopped paying rent in January of this year, it made it impossible for the owners to comply with and repair the health and safety violations found by Town Health Officer Ellen Howard.
“Ellen sent numerous certified letters notifying them [the landlords] of this health hazard at least six months ago,” said Rockingham Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen. “She never got a reply.”
The town found that the porch on the structure was “unsafe as the main entry way to the building for tenants and the post office mail carrier.”
After receiving no response from the Coopers, an Emergency Health Order was issued Aug. 8, with an eviction notice to tenants to vacate the premises on Aug. 23.
While Cullenen said the tenants “had plenty of time to find another place to live,” referring to the six-month process of trying to locate and deal with the landlords, it is not clear that the tenants were ever told directly that the process would result in their needing to find another place to live.
Both the town and the village have been cracking down on buildings for fire safety, health hazards, or unsafe building violations as well as being “derelict,” with a property on 69 Atkinson St. notified of an unsafe building ordinance violation earlier this year.
Cullenen laid blame for the evictions at the feet of the tenants for “full dumpsters,” then with a landlord “we can’t find.”
“The first I heard about [the eviction] was two weeks ago,” said third-floor tenant Crystal Long.
Long, who has been keeping up on her rent, said she was getting some money at the beginning of the month, but “not enough” for first month, last month and a deposit.
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