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Fall River condemns apartment building in squalor, vows to do more

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FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — About 30 residents of an apartment building were removed from their homes after city officials discovered they were living in squalor.

Inspector of Buildings Joe Biszko tells Eyewitness News the city was tipped off to horrid conditions and criminal activity at 1270 Pleasant Street by State Rep. Carole Fiola on Monday.

Biszko says when inspectors went in, they found disgusting conditions. He says the building wasn’t up to plumbing codes and fire codes, and was over-occupied. One apartment had nine children living inside, he said. There were non-working and missing smoke detectors, plus inadequate ventilation.

“This building was an unsafe building,” Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia said on Wednesday.

Correia said he was informed of the conditions in the apartment building on Tuesday, and immediately approved its closure. There was a fire watch in place overnight once city officials realized the extent of the fire hazard, Biszko said.

Correia says criminal activity was also reported in the building.

“Drug dealing, prostitution,” he said. “A lot of negative stuff happening there.”

Ricky Sanderson is the pastor at a church on the first floor. His church and a restaurant were allowed to stay open when city officials condemned the building.

He described to Eyewitness News what he knew was going on upstairs.

“Drug activity…debris, dog feces,” he said. He watched as residents were forced out by the deadline: 3 p.m. Wednesday. The notices went up one day prior.

“Animal control was here, I saw them take out an iguana,” he said.

Biszko said there were also dogs in poor condition, including eight puppies in one unit.

Sanderson said he tried to convince the building’s owner to clean up, and even offered to rent out the space above his church and turn it into classrooms. She declined.

“We told her there was a lot of strange activity,” Sanderson said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t live in this building who come here all the time,” he said, adding that people frequently enter the church under the influence of drugs. He started the church to try and help people struggling in the community.

According to city officials, the landlord did nothing. Eyewitness News reached out to her but we have not heard back. Biszko said she told the city she was frightened of her tenants.

Mayor Correia says the city is providing temporary housing to the tenants through the Community Development Agency. Just one week into his mayoral term, he says he plans to go after other absentee landlords.

“We’re going to use this as a model for a larger solution,” he said. “We’re really going to crack down on absentee landlords who are allowing activity like this to happen.”

Biszko says city inspectors are compiling the building’s violations and will determine if the landlord will be fined later this week.