Residents ousted from illegal apartments in Middleton
MIDDLETON, Mass. (AP) — The spray-painted signs — one on cardboard, one on a bedsheet — visible to passing motorists on Route 114 say “24 Familys (sic) homeless” and “Cause of Town, Why.”
But in May, a judge laid blame on the property owner, ordering Judson Deacon to stop renting out illegal apartments in three buildings at 6, 8 and 11 Rockaway Road and at 329 North Main St. — units that were never approved by the town.
Deacon, who ran the Candlelite Motor Inn, has been in a legal fight with the town since a fire in April 2014 damaged the kitchen area of the motel at 319 North Main St.
Town officials subsequently discovered multiple apartments and rooming-house-style accommodations spread among the other four nearby properties — which are all owned by Deacon — as well as sleeping areas set up in the motel’s “cabana” rooms, none of which had ever been approved by the town, according to court papers.
When Deacon, the principal beneficiary of the trust that owns the motel, sought a building permit to repair damage from the fire, town officials pushed back, saying they would not issue a permit until he corrected all of the building code violations, including the illegal apartments.
Deacon and his attorney insisted that the apartments were “grandfathered,” predating current zoning regulations.
The dispute led to several years of litigation, which came to an end in May with a jury-waived trial, after which Salem Superior Court Judge Janice Howe issued an order barring Deacon from continuing to rent out the illegal rooms and apartments. Howe also restricted the number of rooms at the Candlelite itself to 54.
The multi-family occupation violates town zoning law, according to Building Inspector Scott Fitzpatrick — and if Deacon does not comply with the zoning, the town will be forced to return to court.
“Obviously, by the signs ... it looks like he’s at least attempting to comply by emptying the apartments,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a sign they’re moving in the direction of compliance.”
More importantly, he said, it’s “a safety issue.” While Fitzpatrick said it’s difficult for the tenants to have to move, it isn’t safe for them to live there under the circumstances.
When he entered the homes — zoned for just single-family use — in 2016, Fitzpatrick found that:
- 329 North Main St., had seven apartments, a mix of one-bedroom and studio units;
- 6 Rockaway Road had four apartments;
- 8 Rockaway Road had four “hotel-type units,” several one-bedrooms, and a couple studios, for nine units total;
- 11 Rockaway Road, known as the “Ginger Mill,” had 14 apartments with a mix of rooming house- and motel room-style apartments plus some one-bedroom apartments.
“Some of them were nothing more than a room, some of them were apartments with a kitchen,” Fitzpatrick said. “Some were better than others.”
Building code is vastly different for single-family or two-family homes versus multi-family, Fitzpatrick said. Multi-families must have safety features like fire doors, sprinklers and enclosed staircases. These properties lacked many of those safety elements.
“We never like to see people out of their homes,” said Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan. But he added that “the worst situation” would be if “we look the other way and there’s a fire and people end up getting killed in there.”