Photo Gallery | Condemned North Adams building to remain vacant
NORTH ADAMS — Condemned in February for health violations, an eight-unit multifamily residential building at 35-37 High St. appears likely remain vacant and in a state of disrepair for the foreseeable future.
The building's owner, Chris Bonnivier, said he can't afford to make the necessary repairs to make the building habitable again, so he's trying to sell the property to someone who can.
But that will take at least six months, he speculated.
"Hopefully, somebody will pick it up and do something good with it," Bonnivier said. "But it won't sell for much, so I'm going to owe a lot of money to the bank."
Six families were displaced Feb. 25 when the city health department declared the structure unfit for human habitation and cited Bonnivier for a variety of violations of the public health code.
Power to the building had been intermittent due to overloaded circuits and gas had been cut off because of uncapped lines and open chimneys, according to the condemnation order, which has been obtained by The Eagle.
There were blocked exits, trash strewn around the property, missing smoke detectors, signs of roof leaks on the top floor, and evidence of the presence of rodents. And since the power was out, the water heaters were not working.
City Health Inspector James O'Brien noted that one of the electrical panels in the basement was so hot that epoxy inside it had melted and was in danger of causing a fire.
"It's a good thing we came in when we did," he said.
The 21 residents of the building — including at least a six children — and 20 dogs were forced to relocate that afternoon. Most of them went to live with friends or family until they could locate new housing.
"If we could've done something to keep them in there we would have," O'Brien said. "But the owner was unwilling to do anything."
The property has a history of health code violations. In 2014, the owner was ordered to replace missing screens and correct other issues, such as a hole in the front door, not enough heat in the bedrooms, signs of rodent infestation, rotted wood flooring, a leaky bathtub, a fan hanging from the bathroom ceiling and trash issues.
In 2015, the owner was ordered to replace missing or damaged screens, replace a damaged door, install a handrail on side entry steps, replace stairs at a rear entrance, repair an exterior light and repair the fire alarm system.
In both cases repairs were made.
The latest round of violations was brought to the attention of the city in an email from a resident of the property, O'Brien said.
Bonnivier told The Eagle the home's condition wasn't as bad as the city made it out to be. He said the gas lines didn't have any gas in them because he had previously terminated gas service and provided space heaters to tenants to heat by electricity.
When Bonnivier called in an electrician in to look over the electric panels on the day of the condemnation, he reported no fire danger and said the panel was not overheated.
He said he hired a local property management company a few years ago to handle maintenance at the building, but some of the work they did was substandard and done without a city permit. So he fired them and moved on, but things went sour after that.
"I've been portrayed as a stereotypical slum lord, but I care very much for the families, their children, even their dogs," Bonnivier said.
When the building was condemned, he said, he paid for the tenants to move, gave them security deposits for renting a new place, and even paid to board some of their dogs during the transition. He also provided cash for groceries until they could get their feet on the ground.
He said he spent between $5,000 and $6,000 to get them relocated.
"The city didn't give me any time to rectify the situation," he said. "Now because of the city I've had to dump my entire life savings into that property, and I'm upside down with the mortgage."
Efforts to reach any of the tenants that were vacated were unsuccessful.
The building, which sits in a prominent spot on a hillside overlooking downtown, was constructed in the early 1900s, according to city tax records. It has eight units, 20 bedrooms, 8 baths and total of 34 rooms and is assessed at $183,000. Bonnivier bought the building in 2008 for $260,000.
O'Brien said that if owner rectifies the issues to the city's satisfaction, the building can be reoccupied. If he chooses not to, it would take six months to a year, or longer, for legal action to either take possession of the property or order its demolition.