Squalid conditions lead Warren to condemn house, remove tenants

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 1/31/23

A single-family home located at 36 Kinnicutt Ave. was ruled by Warren Housing Court Judge John J. Rego to be unsuitable for occupancy and in violation of multiple housing ordinances.

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Squalid conditions lead Warren to condemn house, remove tenants


A single-family home located at 36 Kinnicutt Ave. was ruled by Warren Housing Court Judge John J. Rego to be unsuitable for occupancy and in violation of multiple housing ordinances, and subsequently ordered all tenants to be removed from the building during an emergency session of the housing court on Monday morning.

Matt Cabral, Warren’s Building/Zoning Official, gave testimony before Judge Rego following an inspection of the property that occurred on Jan. 26 after receiving a report that people were living within the basement of the home in violation of local ordinances.

Upon being let into the building by one of the building’s tenant, who also testified to the squalid conditions of the home at the hearing, Cabral was able to examine the full condition of the property, which included an accessory dwelling unit behind the main building that housed two additional tenants to the four that allegedly were occupying the main house.

Upon entering the property, Cabral testified that he found multiple safety hazards, including a smoke detector that had been removed because it wasn’t functioning, water and sewer pipes that were exposed due to boards being removed because of a water leak, and a child’s pack-and-play which was found next to a wood-burning stove.

Cabral said that the house was supposedly heated through an outdoor, wood-fed furnace, but that gas- and electric-powered heaters were also found inside the home and utilized when the furnace ran out of wood, and that the thermostat in the house was not functioning properly and did not correspond to the actual temperature in the house. The basement entry was also padlocked, which meant other occupants of the house had no access to the emergency boiler shutoff or electrical panels (a safety violation).

Cabral said he found clear signs of people living in the basement, such as a cot and a sofa with a sleeping bag on top. In the same room, which was full of “several articles of garbage and rubbish” throughout the area, there was a boiler that the owner said was not functioning, but which was surrounded by an “extreme” amount of garbage and debris.

Cabral described finding a toilet that he was told was not functioning, but which still had excrement inside of it, as well as a shower with no shower head that was located near exposed wiring above. There was soap and shampoo in the area, indicating people had been using the shower. Cabral also mentioned finding two bottles with a substance that appeared to be urine, one in the basement and one elsewhere on the property.

Upstairs, Cabral found ashtrays full of cigarette butts, and an electric heater next to a bed, along with gasoline and propane tanks that were not properly secured outside. The stairs leading up the accessory dwelling unit had become rotted, and the bottom step was missing entirely.

The home is zoned for single-family residential use, but Cabral said he found that each of the five rooms within the upstairs portion of the house each had individual locking mechanisms.

“When you start cordoning off rooms and giving them individual locks, it becomes a rooming house,” Cabral said in a call following the meeting on Monday. “They’re utilizing common areas, a common kitchen, a living room area, you then fall into the category of a rooming and boarding house, and it’s no longer a single-family residence.”

The owner of the property, Mark Watson, testified that he had been making improvements to the exterior and interior of the building, and that he would fix the remaining issues within a week’s time. Judge Rego ruled in favor of the town’s assessment that the building exhibited a clear and present safety risk to any occupants and first responders who might be called to the home. Judge Rego ordered the building to be vacated, have its utilities shut off and be condemned until the safety issues are addressed and another inspection is conducted. Cabral said on Tuesday morning he was posting the notice, and the house would be boarded up this week, weather permitting.

According to Cabral, the house had gone into receivership over a year ago, and had been on the Town’s radar since receiving multiple complaints about the vast quantity of garbage and vehicles that had piled up throughout the exterior of the property in recent years.

Cabral said it was an example of code enforcement working on behalf of maintaining a healthy standard of living for everyone in town.

“That’s what code enforcement is here for,” he said. “We’re not punitive, we just want to make sure to bring everyone up to compliance. My philosophy in this office is to make sure everyone can live equally in the Town of Warren.”

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