MIDDLETOWN — Four residential properties have been reported for suspected violations of the city’s disease ordinance, including decay, a roof collapsing, rodent infestation and public trash and debris, among other zoning violations.
“If someone has some stuff in their backyard that only the neighbor can see, that we can’t see from the street, that’s not rot,” said Land Use Director Marek Kozikowski.
The following parcels have been notified of Code violations by Zoning/Blight Enforcement Officer Tom Hazel.
159 Boston Street, owned by Robert D. Cyranowicz. He could not be reached by phone at the number given on the Internet.
According to the rot notice, the building has a collapsing or missing roof that needs to be repaired or replaced; damaged siding that needs repair or maintenance with paint; Shrubs, hedges, grasses, plants or weeds left to grow unkempt, overgrowth that requires care to allow exit and keep out of the way; and abandoned or inoperable vehicles or property improperly stored on the premises that must be removed or repaired in accordance with operational standards.
212 Sisk St., jointly owned by Peter Smith, Stanley Smith and Joseph Smith. Peter Smith’s phone number listed online is not working. The press could not find contact numbers for the other co-owners. According to the notice, the property was cited for accumulated debris dumped next to the driveway.
26 Delwood Ave., owned by Randall Milliot, whose number listed online appeared to be a fax machine. The property has several violations including accumulated debris in the yard, shrubs and hedges growing unkempt and obscuring or blocking exits or entrances; unregistered disabled vehicles; and grass that grows over eight inches.
144 Grand St, owned by Joseph A. Catalano. The press could not find a contact number. Property exhibits zoning violations, including materials in the yard, porches, and driveway; and rodent harboring or infestation, depending on the city.
Hazel said Wednesday that he has found many landowners difficult to contact in these situations.
Hazel said he receives complaints either in writing or by phone or through the city’s See Click Fix website. While all of these reports are researched, anonymous reports have the lowest priority.
“The problem with anonymous complaints is often that the underlying issue is a personal dispute between two residents,” which Hazel doesn’t get involved in, he explained. “Therefore, a written complaint allows all parties to invest in the process. I will not readily divulge the complainant’s information, I just need to avoid being used as a tool by one party against another.”
The first step in that process is to conduct an inspection, he said. If a violation is detected, photos will be taken and a notice sent to the owner. “Usually this leads to a reaction and a discussion about how to achieve compliance,” Hazel said.
If nothing is done after 30 days, he will revisit the property. If these violations have not been remedied or only partially remedied, a warning will be issued.
“If the property owner hasn’t contacted me yet, fines are usually called over the phone and then I can, at my discretion, wait to subpoena until compliance with the plan discussed is achieved,” Hazel said.
If violations persist, Hazel can issue a late payment notice, giving the landowner 10 days to pay the fines, comply or request a third-party hearing on the matter, he said.
The officer will hear both sides of the case and make an independent decision. If the individual rules in favor of the city, Hazel added, “the process will move to an evaluation by the court.”
If no request for a hearing is filed in those 10 days, the city’s attorneys will file an assessment with the court, he said, which will allow a lien to be placed on the land registry.
In 2022, four properties have gone through the full process and appraisals are pending in court, Hazel said.
The ZEO has seen many egregious cases in his career, including one he described as “pretty disgusting” involving a multi-tenant building near Hubbard Park with upper-unit residents dumping trash and bulky items thrown from the porch onto the driveway below.
At the time of the complaint, he said, the pile was about 10 feet by 20 feet wide and two to three feet high. It included household trash, televisions, clothing and other items, he said. The problem persisted, and “not to attract bugs,” Hazel issued a so-called “Clean and Lien” through the Code Enforcement Committee.
This allowed an independent contractor to remove and haul away the debris. “The costs associated with the cleanup will be issued as a lien,” Hazel said.
All of these ZEOs have some degree of enforcement discretion, he added. “Some ailments do not reach the threshold of what is defined as a disease or may be very minor in nature. Sometimes I can’t see the issue in public right away due to privacy laws.
“Ignoring a legitimate issue is not good practice,” Hazel continued. “In any case, compliance is always the goal and residents with valid complaints deserve a solution.”
He makes a habit of working with owners in all situations to achieve compliance. “Some cases are so large that progress towards compliance can take a long time. But if the violator makes an honest effort to comply, I will always cooperate with them.”
Weather conditions could prevent an owner from fixing the entire problem, Kozikowski said. Matters can be resolved with the owner and the plague enforcement officer, he added. “If they continue to make progress or come up with a sensible plan for compliance, it can help bridge the gap in the winter months,” he said.
Increasingly, people prefer wildflower meadows to traditional grass lawns, something Hazel has encountered more often than one might expect.
“In this case, I’m trying to meet with the owner to discuss the plantings and establish intent. Some have left their lawns trying to claim it’s for the bees’ or is a pollinator garden, he said. “My concerns with a real, legitimate pollinator garden are corner sightlines: is it outside of the city’s right-of-way, (and) what is the maintenance schedule? They need to be trimmed once a year.”
To read the disease regulation, please visit bit.ly/3jO9T6v. The Land Use Office can be reached at 860-638-4590.