, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 26, 2013

Struggle over illegal multi-unit homes


Longterm problem

According to Harrington, this problem has haunted officials for years due to oversights by former code enforcement officers, as well as former owners ignoring zoning rules and secretly added apartments to single-family dwellings.

Harrington said in the past, property owners would take out building permits to expand their homes with additional space and another bathroom, all of which are legal. However, it is the inclusion of a stove for the kitchen that turns expanded space into another dwelling, he said.

But sometimes, after the town’s final inspection approves the new addition, owners sneak in a stove, turning the space into an apartment. The town can find the problem — sometimes years down the road — in any number of ways, Harrington said. Town assessors can find apartments when doing inspections for tax valuations or neighbors often complain about them to town officials.

When assessors make the discovery, they refer the problem to building inspectors, but also change the use valuation, upgrading it to a multi-family and assessing the value accordingly, he said. That still doesn’t make the apartment legal, he said, and the town has a court ruling to back that up.

And although in the past some inspectors may have turned a blind eye to illegal multi-family homes, that’s not true today, Harrington said. The town is enforcing its zoning these days, he said, much to the dismay of many who now cry foul.

That’s the situation for Neil Gaudet, who purchased what he believed to be a two-family home at 28 Mudnock Road in March 2010. Gaudet said he planned to live in one unit and rent the other, assuming the property was legal since it had been taxed as a two-family for years. But after beginning work to upgrade the property, he learned from building inspector David Lovering it wasn’t.

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