Landlord gets more time to fix violations

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NEWFANE — A landlord who has run afoul of Brattleboro's rental housing code was given another temporary reprieve on Friday.

Will Hunter, of Springfield, owns 6 Reynolds Drive and 48-50 Central St., which, on Nov. 21, were ordered closed down due to health and safety violations. The eviction notice was stayed for a court hearing on Nov. 28, but on Nov. 26, the Brattleboro Select Board, acting as the Board of Health, issued a health order against Hunter stating repairs must be made no later than Dec. 4.

During the Nov. 28 hearing in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division, Judge Michael Kainen stayed the eviction notice and gave Hunter a week to address the items identified in inspections conducted by the town. On Dec. 12, inspectors visited the properties, finding multiple violations including the third floor of 6 Reynolds Drive being used illegally as a bedroom. Other violations included numerous defects in the electrical systems, lack of adequate fire walls, with numerous holes in the walls, blocked exit ways and a large amount of combustible materials near fire sources such as the furnaces. On Dec. 30, the town was back in the Newfane court, asking Kainen for a court order demanding Hunter completely comply with the town's health order no later than Friday, Jan. 10.

"We're all working together to make it safe for my tenants," Hunter said after the hearing December.

On Friday, Brian Bannon, Brattleboro's zoning administrator and deputy health officer told Kainen that while Hunter has made progress in fixing some of the violations, others are still outstanding. In addition, state inspectors were on site Thursday to take a look at the properties and found some new violations.

According to a report filed by Frank Small, Vermont State Electrical Inspector with the Department of Public Safety Division of Fire Safety, at 6 Reynolds Drive, Hunter needs to install lighting and switches at the top and bottom of stairs, eliminate the use of extension cords by installing additional wall outlets, replace pull-chain lights with switch lights in each room, and in the basement relocate the electrical panel to the first floor, install a sump pump, and consider smaller water heaters that are not in any danger of shorting out due to flooding. Small also noted that ground fault circuit interrupters need to be installed in all areas of the building.

At 48-50 Central St., Small noted that Hunter still needs to install missing covers on electrical boxes and devices and install lighting over exits. As with 6 Reynolds Drive, Hunter needs to eliminate extension cords and replace them with additional electric receptacles and install switched lights in each room.

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"All lighting fixtures shall be properly secured to the electrical box. ... Not complete," wrote Small. "All electrical boxes shall be properly secured to the structure. ... Not complete."

Small wrote that Hunter needs to replace porcelain lamp holders in the basement, add protection to non-metallic cables, install new kitchen lights and fix a bathroom fan. As at 6 Reynolds Drive, Hunter also needs to install ground fault circuit interrupters.

Other problems identified by Bannon include exit ways blocked by a tenant's possessions, "fist holes" in walls, missing sheetrock and handrails.

Bannon told the judge that while garbage and debris around the outside of the houses has been partially removed, there is still an accumulation that needs to be dealt with. "There is a pickup truck [at 48-50 Central St.] that is being used to store garbage, though the amount of garbage has been reduced," said Bannon, who said there is a tarped-over trailer on the property, too, which might contain even more garbage.

He also noted that tenants at 6 Reynolds Drive had told him a bedbug infestation had been taken care of, but during the inspection he detected the "sickly sweet" smell that is indicative of bedbugs. Bannon said there is no indication Hunter hired a professional to deal with the infestation and that it often takes several treatments to eliminate bedbugs.

Kainen asked Bob Fisher, town attorney for Brattleboro, to draft an order giving Hunter four weeks to fix the electrical problems identified on Thursday and two weeks to fix the other problems previously identified by the town. Fisher is expected to have that order to Hunter on Monday, who is expected to review it before handing it to the judge on Tuesday, who will then approve the order.

"I have no objection to an order that says what has to be done and when," Hunter told the judge.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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