Rats in Westport call abandoned house their home


WESTPORT — The old house next to Simon and Elizabeth Miranda's home on Glenwood Avenue is abandoned. No one has lived there for six years, they say.

The roof needs work and a part of it has collapsed, pulling inwards the side of the house connected to it. Windows are broken, a side door stands open, paper and plastic trash lie strewn on the ground beneath overgrown brush. The yellow paint on the house is peeling and chipped.

But it's the rats they say they've seen, and the fire hazard and the youths who sometimes get into the place that most bother Mr. and Ms. Miranda.

"One of the rats was humungous," said Mr. Miranda. "The cats caught two of them recently."

"Just the other day," said Ms. Miranda, "the cat brought me one that was about this big, not counting the head and tail," she said, holding her hands nearly a foot apart. "It was grayish in color."

"At least five times a week the cats bring rats and mice to our deck," she said, adding that only one of the seven or so cats is theirs, the others are feral. All hunt in the abandoned house, she said. "I've seen rats come out of the house. I've seen it with my own eyes."

"Last spring there were kids over there. I could hear glass breaking. Someone called the cops and the kids took off," Ms. Miranda said. "Structurally, it's unsafe. I'm just concerned someone's going to set fire to it. It's pretty close to other homes."

Ms. Miranda said she called town Building Inspector Ralph Souza last spring. Mr. Souza visited the house, and on May 15 posted several notices — next to the front door, on the street side of the house, and the garage door.

"Notice, unsafe structure —'especially unsafe in case of fire' — no one allowed in building unless authorized by the building inspector," they read.

"This isn't the only one I've got going on," Mr. Souza said Monday when asked about the Glenwood Avenue house. "There are four or five of these types of houses in Westport."

He said he needs guidance from the board of selectmen before he boards it up. "We can't tear it down," he said, and besides there may be asbestos or contaminants that could drive up the costs of demolition, tasks for which the town doesn't have a budget.

He said the house is private property. "You can't just do what you want to on private property ... You've got to proceed with caution." He said he plans  to meet with the town administrator on the matter.

Mr Souza said he's sent two registered letters to the owner of record, Olive Fournier, listed on the town's property record card as located at a Washington, D.C. address. One of Mr. Souza's letters was returned and marked as "undeliverable."

Ms. Miranda said she believes the elderly owner ("Tootsie was her nickname") is in a Fall River nursing home. Mr. Souza said he needs to check whether a tax or other lien is filed against the property, because, he said, it may be the responsibility of the lien-holder to board the property up.

Ms. Miranda said she also called the Board of Health last week and spoke with Jim Walsh, who she said would look into it. Mr. Walsh could not be reached by phone for this story.

"This has been going on a good solid four or five years that it's been in disrepair," Ms. Miranda said. "Now it's at the point where it's horrific. You see this big bunch of lumber. It affects all our property values as well."

Mr. and Ms. Miranda have lived in their Glenwood Avenue home for 16 years. She is a nurse, and he does auto body repair. Their three sons — ages 21, 18, and 14 — live with them.

Walking outside in front of her house, Ms. Miranda reaches down and picks up a piece of shingle that's blown off the roof next door, and shows bits of shingle that lie on the hood and roof of their car parked in the driveway, and the scratches they've caused.

Inside later, she says it's sad how things have turned out for all involved —  including the woman who owns the derelict house. "Our children used to mow her lawn and trim her hedges. We were great neighbors."



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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.