Great Barrington apartments frustrate Board of Health

The Great Barrington Board of Health has struggled since 2017 to force the owner of apartments in this Stockbridge Road building to bring the property up to safety code. The board is discussing further legal strategy.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Town officials might, again, take the owner of roach-infested, ramshackle apartments to court in their long effort to make the units safe.

And they might condemn some or all of the apartments.

After a brief public hearing Thursday about the most recent correction order for 232 Stockbridge Road LLC, the town’s Board of Health — it was short one member — went into a private session to discuss a new legal strategy.

The board previously had lodged a complaint against the owner in Southern Berkshire District Court for violating the health ordinance. The owner, Harry Sano, appealed this, and the board dropped the case this month and continues to search for a way to force the corrections.

Town Health Agent Rebecca Jurczyk told The Eagle that the town attorney’s advice was to not enter into a legal battle over fines, but to encourage the owners get the units fixed.

“Who cares about the fine?” she said. “He said, ‘You just want to see the units brought up to the minimum standards of human habitation.’”

The board continued the hearing to May 6, prompting member Peter Stanton to clarify whether it was “comfortable” allowing the tenants to remain there until then. Chairman Michael Lanoue said there didn’t appear to be a choice.

“At this point, I think that that’s kind of what their main option is,” Lanoue said.

Jurczyk said that an estimated seven people are living in the apartments.

The board and Sano, through his attorney, Christoper Hennessey, disagree on at least two violations recorded from multiple inspections since 2017. Those include whether the four units should have a second egress — the town’s Building Inspector says that, legally, they should — and whether ceilings lower than 7 feet legally can be considered a danger.

The board and Health Department have tried for more than three years to force the owners to fix the problems.

The units first came under scrutiny in fall 2017, after five tenants were rushed to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning furnace. Upon arrival, firefighters reported that there were no CO2 detectors.

The incident displaced 14 male tenants, and the Health Department ruled the units uninhabitable until changes were made.

Subsequent inspections found 33 violations in all the units, which are above a former retail store, Wonderful Things. Those included a sparking outlet, large holes in ceilings and walls, loose stairs and handrails outside, and bathrooms and kitchens that required “significant repairs,” according to the Nov. 7, 2017 report.

The owners also were cited for overcrowding of tenants.

An inspection April 8 turned up additional violations, including cockroaches in all four units and leaking plumbing in one unit. The nonworking smoke and CO2 detectors in two units since have been fixed. The owner has until April 30 to correct the rest.

So far, 14 violations were corrected, according to an April 14 report.

Jurczyk said she could not reveal any legal steps the board might take.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

On Twitter @BE_hbellow.