Residents could go if repairs not made

WILTON – About a dozen tenants of a Forest Road apartment building may find themselves homeless in early November if the town and their landlord don’t come to an agreement over a litany of maintenance issues.

Wilton Health Inspector Rise Smythe-Freed has issued an order to vacate the 30 Forest Road property because the landlord, Paul Schaefer, of Colby Street Realty in Brookline, has not fixed ongoing problems with the building, including defective plumbing, dangerous wiring, structurally deficient railings, malfunctioning windows, trash in common areas, and mold and leaks in the walls and roof.

There are so many health and safety issues that Smythe-Freed said it is necessary to vacate all the apartments. However, if Schaefer completes the repairs by Nov. 3 then the residents can stay.

If that doesn’t happen, the 16 or so people living in the building have less than a month to find a new place to live.

The building, next to Wilton House of Pizza, has 12 units. Two of the units have already been condemned, said Smythe-Freed.

Both Schaefer and the tenants say they were caught off-guard by the vacate order, which went out Sunday. Schaefer said he found out about the order Monday through a tenant and a newspaper reporter, not town officials.

“This is all news to me,” Schaefer said Tuesday. “I have not received anything about this.” Schaefer said he has received letters from the town about two condemned apartments, but those documents said nothing about closing all the apartments.

However, Smythe-Freed said Schaefer received a vacate order for each of the apartments by certified mail.

All sides agree this is a huge case for the town of Wilton.

Schaefer’s attorney, Sean Emmer Curran, called the town’s handling of this case “bizarre.” He said in seven years of doing eviction law he has never seen a case like this.

Smythe-Freed said this is the biggest case she’s handled in her four years as health officer.

Tenant concerns

One of Schaefer’s tenants, Patricia Lorman, who is seven months pregnant, brought the issue to The Telegraph’s attention. Lorman, 23, lives in the building with her 3-year-old daughter, Brittany, and her fiance, Chris Davis, 26.

Lorman and her family have been living there since April. She said they have had issues with the apartment since the beginning, with problems ranging from a hornets’ nest outside the living room window to mold on the bathroom floor.

“We aren’t bad tenants. We are paying our rent,” said Lorman.

On Tuesday, Schaefer said he was learning about Lorman’s problems for the first time and would be addressing them.

At Monday’s regular board of selectmen meeting, members said they were open to extending the deadline to help the tenants. Ultimately, the board decided not to extend the deadline Monday, but did decide to review the situation at its next meeting Oct. 20.

During the meeting, tenants told the board they were also upset with the town for not giving more notice.

“It’s coming to a shock to us that the building is being shut down,” said Ryan Shepherd, who lives in the building with his pregnant fiancee and 4-year-old daughter. A 30-day window is standard operating procedure for the health department, Smythe-Freed said later.

Shepherd also told selectmen that not all apartments are in as bad a shape as town officials maintain. Shepherd said he has taken responsibility for cleaning the halls.

During a walk through the building’s hallway with Schaefer, a reporter saw a small amount of trash and a tenant fixing a light. Schaefer showed a reporter that someone damaged an exit sign by ripping the face off it. Also, the coin holder on the washing machine appeared to be tampered with.

The tenants say finding another place to live will be difficult because money is tight. Lorman is out of work due to complications with her pregnancy.

Davis works full-time for Milford Lumber. Shepherd said he only makes $8.50 per hour and all his savings had been wiped out by the move into his current apartment.

Selectmen told the tenants they have been trying to get Schaefer to meet the town’s requirements for three years and that the order to vacate might be the only way to get his attention.

“This has gone on for too long,” said Selectman Daniel Donovan. “Somebody is going to die in that place.”

But Schaefer, who was not at the meeting, told a reporter Tuesday that he has done about $40,000 in repairs to the building since he bought it three years ago.

“Everything they have asked me to do I’ve done,” said Schaefer.

On Aug. 21, Smythe-Freed inspected the building and found the problems that led to the vacate order. Notices went out to each apartment and to Schaefer on Sept. 5 stating that the problems needed to be fixed in 30 days. But when she returned to the property Oct. 5 she found no evidence of repairs.

“The only thing I can do is issue an order to vacate and that puts the tenants in a terrible position,” said Smythe-Freed. “It’s horrifying.”

Smythe-Freed confirmed that the tenants were not at fault. Paperwork filed by building inspector Keith Carmen states that Lorman and Davis kept their apartments as “tidy and organized” as possible. However, the kitchen and bathrooms are “uncleanable” due to rust and recurrent mold. The windows are inoperable and the building has an insect infestation (a hornet’s nest outside a window, as well as flies), according to paperwork filed by Smythe-Freed and provided by Lorman.

Schaefer said he is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the apartments open because he can’t afford vacancies in this troubled economy. Schaefer said he has been a landlord since 1994 and has never had a successful court action against him. He owns other properties in Manchester, Allenstown and Rochester.

“If I lose a tenant to maintenance, then shame on me,” he said.