NEW BRITAIN - More than seven months after the city condemned the building at 408 Arch St., which was heavily damaged by a fire a week later, officials and the property owner are still wrestling over how to deal with the property.
“We’re doing the bare minimum to keep it safe,” Mayor Erin Stewart said. “From the city’s perspective, it’s very frustrating because a questionable fire happens 10 days after we condemn a building that wasn’t maintained to begin with. We’re pressuring the owner to sell it, but he still thinks it’s worth $150,000. He’s delusional and needs to be removed from the city. This is a classic slumlord story.”
The Building Department and the Fire Marshal’s Office condemned the building on Feb. 1, ordering the residents out.
The owner of the building, Saul Berger, of New York City, was required to pay tenants a settlement so they could find other permanent lodging. The building burned about a week later.
Since then, Berger has done little to deal with the deteriorating structure, said the city’s health director Sergio Lupo.
“On July 11, we sent a letter after the insurance claim was denied directing him to either rebuild or tear down,” Lupo said. “We’re also giving him an opportunity to sell it. We’re hoping he’s going to sell it or he’ll be sent to court soon.”
The insurance claim was denied because Berger failed to tell his insurance company that he had been cited the week before the fire for not having a working fire alarm system in the building, Lupo said. Berger is suing the insurance company over the denial, Lupo added.
Berger did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday.
When personnel from the Building Department and Fire Marshal’s Office inspected the building on Feb. 1, they found no working fire alarms, a private club operating in the basement, electrical and plumbing problems and substandard heating, which forced tenants to huddle together in one room in frigid temperatures.
One apartment bathroom ceiling was covered with black mold and the stairway leading inside was falling apart, with chunks of plaster from the ceiling piled on the landings and holes in the walls. One window had been covered with sheetrock rather than being replaced with glass.
The four-story building included six apartments and two ground-level stores and had been secured days before the fire, building officials said.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, Lupo said.
At the city’s expense, officials again hired a contractor to secure the building Tuesday after someone broke in, Lupo said. The city has already paid a firm $1,600 to make sure no one could get inside, he said. “We’re probably looking at $5,000 by the time we’re done,” Lupo said.
The city is using funds from the “Clean and Lien” program, which allows officials to get a blighted property cleaned up and then put a lien on the property, forcing the owner to pay the lien before the parcel can be sold.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.