‘It was hell’: Tales of residing at Northeast Properties in Worcester embody mushrooms, mattress bugs and birds amongst countless checklist of points


As Marie Ramos carried boxes up to apartment 4L on the fourth floor, her new neighbors periodically stopped her.

“Are you moving in?” Ramos remembered them asking.

After she told them she was, they all responded the same way: Find a new place.

Ramos didn’t immediately believe the warnings given to her about 87 Pleasant St., managed by Northeast Properties in Worcester. She heard the stories as she unloaded her belongings. They focused on infestation including roaches, bed bugs and mice.

Her concern, however, focused on a leak. Northeast notified her about it which delayed her move-in date to the beginning of May 2019. But they assured her, they would address the problem.

The promise of a fix offered a false sense of security that would soon evaporate.

Shortly after Ramos carried the final box up four flights of stairs, she realized her neighbors’ experiences were now also hers.

The first night Ramos said her cat chased two mice across the kitchen. The leak that Northeast assured her had been fixed was now replaced by four mushrooms sprouting out of the wall.

The living conditions at 87 Pleasant St. in Worcester included mushrooms growing out of the wall and damage walls.

The next morning when she called Northeast and noticed more mouse droppings.

The following day she woke up with bed bug bites on her arms, legs and near her left eye. Even at work, she couldn’t escape the apartment from “hell.”

Her retail employer sent her home to prevent possible spread.

Ramos eventually lost her job due to the infestation. Northeast blamed her family for bringing the bed bugs with them.

Her mother, who lived with her, was hospitalized with an allergic reaction to one of the bites. To seek shelter from the bugs, her mother stayed with friends or slept in her car.

“It was hell, to be completely honest,” Ramos said.

Ramos’ apartment represents just a fraction of the residential properties owned by Felicio Lana, president of Northeast Properties, across Worcester, Uxbridge, Leominster and Garder. Lana declined to provide an exact number of properties and units he owns across Central Massachusetts.

While Lana didn’t offer an exact number to MassLive, in an interview with the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in 2020, he said he more than 1,000.

He also owns prominent commercial properties in downtown Worcester such as the Midtown Mall.

“We can tell you we remain committed to providing quality living spaces to all our tenants. Our goal is 100% tenant satisfaction,” Lana said in a statement through his attorney. “In reaching for this goal, we understand that it is important to continually seek to correct and improve our performance.”

In the statement, Northeast Properties didn’t reference any of the questions regarding rodent and bug infestation, electrical issues, heating problems or severe leaks.

Instead, the statement focused on the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic presented for the company.

Ramos’s experience represents a common theme repeated by a half dozen tenants who spoke with MassLive about their experiences with Lana’s Northeast Properties. And the issues far predate the pandemic. Many of the grievances are backed up through more than 100 complaints filed against Lana in Worcester’s housing court over the last decade, well before the pandemic.

Many other complaints never reached court such as the situation experienced by Ramos. It wasn’t until she and her mother threatened a lawsuit that Lana finally began to help her.

“That’s when Felicio sat down with us and said we’ll give you a better apartment, just ease out of the court issue,” Ramos said. “We agreed to it because at that point I didn’t have the money to just up and move out.”

Beyond moving, Ramos also went on to work for Northeast Properties in August 2020 before quitting on Christmas of that year. Ramos wasn’t able to discuss her time as an employee due to signing a non-disclosure agreement.

“I was hesitant [to work for him] because of our past with each other,” Ramos said.

After the problems she experienced on Pleasant Street and to avoid court hearings, Lana provided Ramos with a new apartment, at 82 Elm St. for a lower cost of rent beginning in July of 2019, which made her feel better about the job opportunity.

For the most part, the apartment hasn’t had many issues, but Ramos said recently mice have started to appear.

The property appears in a pair of suits brought by the city against Lana for issues ranging from cross metering (where a tenant’s electric account includes lines from other tenant’s apartments) to rodent infestation. Both suits were voluntarily dismissed by the city.

“The city dismisses enforcement cases when the work is done and all fines and costs have been paid,” the city of Worcester said regarding the complaint, but didn’t elaborate on the habitual nature of the issues from one of its most well known property owners.

Infestation is only one of the problems at Lana-owned properties that surpass the annoyance of a run-of-the-mill absentee landlord and enter more serious issues.

‘We immediately had problems’

David and Maggie Grenier moved to Worcester from California at the end of October 2020.

David grew up in Massachusetts and returned home to be closer to his family with Maggie, who never lived in the Bay State before.

“She was moving back to my home,” Grenier said. “This was nothing like what I was hoping for. Not even a dull situation. It was the exact opposite situation for what I wanted for my wife.”

The Greniers became neighbors with Ramos on Oct. 30, 2020.

“We immediately had problems,” Maggie said.

Coming from California, the couple only viewed the apartment online until they arrived. They conducted a walk-through before moving in. They said “everything was working great.”

In the first chapter of their new life in Massachusetts, Maggie picked up dinner and the two sat on the floor to eat in their new apartment. After a few bites, the lights went out.

It sparked a two-month-long nightmare that ended with the city of Worcester forcing them to evacuate the apartment at 82 Elm St. at the end of December of 2020 due to safety issues tied to the electrical wiring in the home.

“[The city inspector] told us we essentially had to grab our essentials and be out within 30 minutes because it was so dangerous,” Maggie said.

The Greniers shared about 80 videos with MassLive that revealed paper-thin walls, water leaks from the ceiling but most of all comical, but dangerous, electrical issues that involved situations like kitchen light controlling the power to the oven and the refrigerator door turning off lights in other rooms.

Lights flickered or lost power when they tried to use electricity in other rooms. The apartment contained mostly outdated two-pronged outlets that don’t include a grounding wire. They provided little power or at best inconsistent surges, the couple said.

Weeks after the couple moved in, Northeast installed new electrical outlets in the kitchen, David Greiner said. It forced the couple to run extension cords throughout the apartment back to the outlet in the kitchen for lamps, laptops or any other electronics.

All the while, the refrigerator and oven still affected the lights in the ceiling.

“There were two times we tried to connect to the two-pronged outlets,” Maggie said. “One time my computer almost blew up in my face and another time a fan almost blew up in his face. It was so unsafe. We were terrified to plug in anywhere except the outlets in the kitchen.”

David described the fan suddenly becoming super-charged in one of the two-pronged outlets, rotating faster and faster until he unplugged it.

While the fan became a dangerous propeller, the refrigerator didn’t work consistently due to the uneven power sequences. The Greniers told MassLive Northeast’s quick-fix solution was to plug the appliance into the outlet in the hallway through the front door.

“He literally ripped out the ground prong of the refrigerator so it could fit into a two-prong outlet, Maggie said. “We were there for that.”

David continued, “I saw him do it with the pliers. He ripped it out and I was like, ‘Well that’s not right.’”

The electrical concerns crossed over with the water leaks in the bathroom as videos show drops falling above the kitchen sink and near the only workable outlets in the home.

The never-ending issues caused literal sleepless nights for Maggie, who lived in constant fear of a fire erupting within the home.

“With having all of those electrical issues and those exposed wires, I was constantly terrified of a fire. I got to a point where I wasn’t sleeping,” Maggie said. “I developed insomnia and basically got terrified to eat because I was afraid to cook.”

For the two months they lived at 82 Elm St. in Worcester, the couple ordered takeout nearly every day because of the electrical issues and the problems with the oven and refrigerator.

Amid a pandemic, David struggled to work from home as extension cords slithered across the hardwood floors of the apartment acting as his own hub for electricity.

Lana offered to charge them half the cost of rent for November and December, but never actually came through on the offer.

“He would say, ‘Oh that’s in the finance department,’” Maggie said.

On the morning the inspector arrived at the Greniers apartment and told them they had 30 minutes to leave, Northeast Properties had been in the unit earlier.

Maggie said several men, who she identified as Lana’s workers, pounded on the back door of the apartment. They told her they needed to grab some things from the laundry room on the enclosed porch.

Maggie returned inside the apartment to socially distance herself from the men, but she said she heard a commotion back in the kitchen.

“They’re in my kitchen and they’re ripping out all of the new wiring from the new outlets and the extension cords,” Maggie said. “They’re ripping it all out, our only form of electricity. They never asked me if they could enter my home and they never told me they were going to do any of that stuff and none of them are electricians.”

Living conditions at Northeaster Properties in Worcester

Northeast Properties owns 19 Windsor St. which tenants said is plagued with leaks, rodents, dilapidated exterior and problems with heat and hot water.

Liz Whynot lives at 16 Windsor St., a large Victorian beauty that’s showing its early 1900s age. Plywood covers space above the windows. Holes pepper the exterior allowing rodents like mice or as large as birds to enter the residence.

Like the Greniers, Whynot experienced Northeast Properties’ empty promises firsthand.

Whynot reached out to Northeast on July 8, 2019 about the unit, and was approved to move into the apartment on Aug. 1. Part of the agreement between the two parties was the bathroom would be complete, Whynot said.

On Aug. 1, she moved into an apartment that didn’t include working facilities. Whynot said the bathroom work didn’t begin until Aug. 6 and wasn’t completed until more than a month later on Sept. 10.

Bathroom at 19 Windsor St.

The bathroom when Liz Whynot moved into her apartment. Northeast Properties said it would be done when she moved it. It wasn’t.

Without a bathroom, Whynot worked all day only to arrive to a bathroomless apartment at night. While she waited for the work to be completed, she showered at her friend’s house and stayed the night before returning to her apartment in the morning to feed and check on her cat.

“It was ridiculous,” Whynot said.

‘They did nothing’

Living conditions at Northeaster Properties in Worcester

Northeast Properties owns 19 Windsor St. which tenants said is plagued with leaks, rodents, dilapidated exterior and problems with heat and hot water.

Bianca Rantala lives in the same building as Whynot. She has two dogs, which led her to move into a Lana-owned property last year even after having a bad living experience in the past and having worked for Northeast Properties.

“I had a deadline and I moved into one of his apartments in Gardner,” Rantala said. “Long story short, because of the dogs. I had to pick and choose my battles. I’m not giving up my dogs. I didn’t want him as my landlord but my hands were completely tied. There was nothing out there.”

Rantala worked for Northeast Properties for four months during the pandemic. She, like Ramos, signed a non-disclosure agreement regarding her employment.

In January of 2021, she left the apartment in Gardner where streams of water poured out of the ceiling for apartment 1R at 16 Windsor St. She left one leaky ceiling for another, but Lana, she said, promised her the leaking ceiling in Worcester would be repaired.

“He said there was a ceiling leak and it has to be renovated,” Rantala said. “But he said ‘I’m not going to move you in until everything is all set.’”

At the end of December, Rantala walked through the apartment, which appeared to have a brand new dropped ceiling. She moved in on Jan. 1, 2021, the leak started the next day.

“He changed the ceiling tile and got rid of the evidence of a ceiling tile,” Rentala said. “That was not fixed.”

Living conditions at Northeaster Properties in Worcester

Northeast Properties owns 19 Windsor St. which tenants said is plagued with leaks, rodents, dilapidated exterior and problems with heat and hot water.

More than seven months later, the leak remains in the spare bedroom. The only solution Northeast provided her for the leak was removing the ceiling tile, which now exposes a large hole in the room, and a large blue bucket for the water to drip into.

“Their solution was to give me a bucket for it,” Rantala said. “They weren’t answering my calls. I was calling from January to May. May was when I finally called the city.”

The city, Rantala said, is in the process of bringing a suit against Lana related to the leaks.

Like others, she’s also dealt with rodents. In the apartments above Rantala, the holes are so large that a bird once flew into Whynot’s apartments.

“I woke up to a bird flying around my kitchen,” Whynot said.

Whynot said it’s not a rarity. For the last six months, small critters have crawled into her top-floor apartment.

Whynot shared more than 70 text messages with MassLive that she sent to Northeast Properties. The texts addressed issues from the heat not working to rodents living in her apartment, including a possum stuck in her ceiling. Text messages show days passed before a response.

Texts from Whynot show she reported the issues on May 7 that a possum was stuck in her bathroom ceiling again. A month later, the texts continued with the animal problems persisting.

Northeast Properties often didn’t respond to the message. When they did respond, no one came to help.

“I have been sending them pictures of the ceiling tiles moving. I sent them pictures of the bird coming in and they did nothing,” Whynot said.

In February of 2021, Whynot’s renovated bathroom didn’t have hot water. Lana responded and pointed the blame at her, she said. Lana told her to use the hot water, she had to also turn on the cold water.

The Greniers experienced a similar issue. At 82 Elm St., both the hot and cold water had to be turned on to receive warm water for a shower.

Inexplicably, the cold water would cease to work on random occasions.

“The water would become scalding,” Maggie said. “It happened multiple times and there was one time in particular where it completely burned Dave’s back.”

‘A huge weight has been lifted off’

Plumbing problems extend beyond the anecdotal evidence provided by the tenants that spoke to MassLive. According to court records, since 2017, at least three properties have been cited for improper plumbing without permits by the city of Worcester.

On Oct. 3, 2017, the city responded to a complaint at 60 Chatham St. in Worcester, according to court records. The city said “multiple” water heaters were installed without permits. The inspector described the installation as “unworkmanlike” and “leading to unsafe conditions.”

Lana was given until Oct. 10 to fix the issues, but when the city returned on Oct. 11, nothing was done. The city eventually, dismissed its complaint after the problems were fixed and fines were paid.

But even when problems are fixed, others appear.

Headaches reemerged in Whynot’s bathroom last month. For the last week or so she’s been without hot water and heat as she battles a cold.

Northeast Properties replaced the hot water heater last week, she said, but never activated it.

So for now, she has hot water, but she’s hesitant to say for how long.

Living under Lana for a year, she’s learned, the only way to fix the problem is to leave.

“My mental health has gotten so much better,” Whynot said. “I just feel like a huge weight has been lifted off.”