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Dozens of illegal housing complaints fielded Wednesday, Sep 19, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
Building officials continue to field dozens of reports of illegal rooming houses and other code violations eight months after a fire destroyed a two-family home on Avon Street crammed with at least 17 beds.

Building Commissioner Mike Foley told selectmen last night that the office got 139 reports of illegal rooming houses from January to August, including 60 since May, when he last appeared before the board.

Of the 139 cases reported to the department, 72 have been resolved, meaning the extra residents have moved out, and 52 of the cases are still pending, while 15 of the reports turned out to be unfounded.

Code enforcement officers also heard reports of 31 homes with people living in the basement, said Foley.  Eleven of those illegal apartments have been removed, with 18 pending and two proving not to be true, he said.

The department has also investigated two cases of illegal apartments in the attic, six cases of conversion of multifamily dwellings to more than the approved use, and four cases of single-family homes being divided into more than one residence.

Two of the single-family cases are before the Zoning Board of Appeals, said Foley.

Officials have also removed a person who was living in a shed, he said.

Despite the high number of reports and confirmations of illegal rooming houses, Foley and his staff have not often issued fines to building owners who are harboring more residents than allowed by law.

"Our vision isn't to go out and issue citations," said Foley, saying the total haul is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,400 in fines for rooming houses.  "The goal is to improve the living conditions."

Foley recently hired Mike Tusino as assistant building commissioner, taking a position that has been vacant since Foley was promoted to succeed Joe Mikielian as the division head.

Interviews are under way to fill two additional code enforcement positions that were approved last spring at Town Meeting, said Foley.  Those officers will work noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

That approach will allow inspectors to find more convenient times to gain access to homes where a potential problem exists, said Foley.

Foley noted that there is frequent follow-up once a violation is found.

"Some individuals take a little longer to learn what they have to do, so it means we have to monitor them more closely," he said.

In other news, selectmen heard reports from Beta Group, consultants working with the Downtown Rail Crossing Committee to find a solution to the traffic crunch at the intersection of Rte. 126 and 135, and from Public Works Director Peter Sellers about traffic signal improvements that should temporarily ease the burden.

Police Chief Steven Carl gave an update on the downtown crime rate since the wet shelter at 105 Irving St. closed in October, saying the move has had "a significant positive impact."

Planning Board Administrator Jay Grande gave selectmen an update on work along Rte. 30 between Speen and Beacon streets, part of improvement packages from Lowe's and the Natick Collection.

Officials agreed they will push for money from developers of the proposed affordable units near the mall expansion and said they plan to work with Natick and Wellesley officials to upgrade the Rte. 9 corridor.

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