ST. ALBANS TOWN — From the outside Westview Condominiums located off of South Main Street makes a pretty picture. The red and light gray-colored buildings have attractive balconies, lots of greenspace surrounds them and children ride toy vehicles kept parked against a wall in the underground parking garage.
However, town records and interviews with residents cast the apartments in a different light and the town already has stepped in to make sure that promises made by the owner are kept.
Records show a history of enforcement efforts as the zoning administrator sought to get work completed on the project, while the town health officer paid multiple visits to the property in response to complaints.
An April letter from town health officer Dave McWilliams to Westview owner David Goodrich discusses garbage and dog feces in the hallways, dirty stairways with chemicals stored in spray bottles, and old furniture left behind by tenants.
Goodrich said he has hired a maintenance person to live on the site to address problems with the tenants. “He stays after people,” said Goodrich. “He doesn’t allow people to leave trash in the hallways.”
Trash pick-up was increased to twice per week and larger dumpsters installed after the town sent a letter to Goodrich expressing concern about overflowing dumpsters last fall with garbage bags on the ground.
Some tenants, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from other tenants, described a problem with dogs. “There’s more dogs in the place than there are people,” said one tenant. The dogs bark frequently, creating a disruption. “I have begged them to have the dogs stop barking all day long,” she said.
Of greater concern is safety. Police have been called to Westview 37 times for complaints ranging from noise violations to domestic violence, according to the St. Albans Police Dept.
Condo residents have found 22 used syringe needles, a tenant reported.
People who have complained have had their tires slashed, the tenant said. “It’s not safe living here,” she said. “It’s not safe at all.”
Goodrich acknowledged the problem with drug use. He has sent a memo to residents saying he will address the issue to the best of his ability.
“We’re going to install security cameras on the buildings,” said Goodrich. “We’ve also told tenants we will report anything we see to police.”
Illegal activities are a lease violation and Goodrich said that if he has proof of illegal activity, he will take steps to evict the tenant.
This isn’t Goodrich’s first experience as a landlord, but it is the first time he’s overseen something of this size. Each of the three-story buildings contains 15 apartments. The original plan called for owner-occupied condominiums not rental units.
The intent was to sell upscale, spacious condominiums with two and three bedrooms. The apartments feature ceramic tile, hardwood floors, and roomy kitchens, said Goodrich.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said a tenant. “He could have a goldmine here.”
But after the financial collapse in 2008, the Federal Housing Agency tightened requirements for mortgages in housing developments such as this one, making it much harder to get mortgages when a project was ongoing.
Under the circumstances, Goodrich said it didn’t seem feasible to sell the apartments. Instead, he would rent them.
The town required that five of the condos in each building be affordable, with a cost of $168,000 or less. To meet the affordability requirement, Goodrich now leases five apartments in each building for $1,050 per month.
“On a larger project like this with more people together, it’s a different mindset,” said Goodrich. He tries to stay out of conflicts between tenants, but said that if multiple tenants complain about the same person that is grounds for eviction.
“We’re there to provide a nice place, a healthy place, a safe place for people to live,” he said.
There is some turnover in tenants Goodrich acknowledged, but said his daughters do a good job of screening prospective tenants.
Tenants disagreed, saying they were never asked for references. “As long as you have your rent money, that’s all they want,” one said.
On Monday, the town zoning administrator Rebecca Perron sent Goodrich a letter giving him seven days to provide the town with signed copies of contracts for the remaining work. If contracts for paving, sidewalk and landscaping work are not been provided, the town will go ahead and begin the work itself, paying for it with escrowed funds from Goodrich.
According to town records, during a site visit on Aug. 30, 2013 Goodrich told Perron he would provide her with a contract for paving the road leading into Westview and the parking areas.
The paving has not yet been completed.
Also uncompleted is the construction of sidewalks and stairs between the buildings.
When the town approved the project in 2008, it requested a $315,000 letter of credit from Goodrich for the infrastructure work and landscaping. That letter was later reduced to $85,000 after local engineer Cliff Collins, of Ruggiano Engineering, certified that the water and wastewater infrastructure had been built in compliance with the site plan.
The town called in the $85,000 line of credit in May, and those funds are now in escrow. Perron said she believes that the town can complete the outstanding work with those funds.
If Goodrich supplies the contracts in time, he will have until Sept. 1 to complete the site improvements and have them certified by an engineer.
Goodrich told the Messenger he was tied up all spring with another project but believes he will be able to complete the work by Sept. 1.
There have been other alleged problems inside the buildings as well. Each building was intended to have two washers and dryers for tenants to use, according to a tenant. They were never installed in at least one of the buildings.
The tenant said she has been promised the washers and dryers would be installed in her building for the past year. “Their promise means nothing,” she said.
An elevator also was out of commission for an extended period of time. There were problems with the operating program and with parts, both the result of manufacturer error, according to Goodrich. “I think we’ve got it all resolved at this point,” he said.