Complaints over Rumford Street property have neighbors, city eyeing legal changes
After more than two decades on Cambridge Street, Kathy Conners had come to know her neighborhood as a quaint, quiet refuge near downtown Concord and just a short walk from White Park. That was until three years ago, when the drug activity popped up around the corner.
In the years since, Conners said, she has found trash, dog feces and vomit tossed into her backyard. Cigarette butts have littered her property line. Strangers roam up and down her street. Months back, after growing concerned about an unchained pit bull, the 61-year-old finally installed a fence to protect her own dogs from being attacked.
“For the first time while living in Concord, I have at times felt unsafe in my own home,” Conners wrote in a letter to the Monitor.
The source, she and neighbors claim: 74 Rumford St.
City officials are well-acquainted with the address. In the past five years, the police have responded to the four-unit apartment complex at least 125 times. They have arrested more than 30 people inside, on charges including drug possession, second-degree assault and escape from incarceration.
The code administration has also made repeated visits for everything from cockroaches to rotting trash and broken windows, as well as a collapsed bathroom ceiling, which hospitalized one tenant.
Conners has had enough. In June, she wrote a letter to city councilors outlining her experience and requesting that they address her and other neighbors’ concerns. She met with the city solicitor last week and is organizing a public meeting later this month.
“This is a widespread community problem,” she said in her June letter, “and this is simply a request that our elected leaders make it a priority to address how best to encourage the entire Concord community to work together to keep all of our neighborhoods equally safe and livable.”
Message received. At their meeting Wednesday, councilors voted to begin evaluating changes to existing code that would allow the city to more effectively deal with disruptive properties. A solution currently being discussed is adopting a new ordinance that would require landlords of such properties to meet with officials and agree to specific, timely remediations.
For now, the issue has been referred to the public safety committee. Committee member and at-large Councilor Steve Shurtleff said the group will likely meet in the next month or two to discuss it.
Councilor Byron Champlin, whose ward includes Rumford Street and the surrounding neighborhood, said he and Shurtleff have attended meetings with residents about their concerns regarding the property. They have reported shady characters flowing in and out of the units with bags, cars idling in the street, and waves of increased foot traffic.
One neighbor who asked that her name not be used half-joked that she eagerly awaits winter each year because it’s the one season when activity outside the house seems to slow.
Property owner Larry Wurster of Pembroke did not respond to calls requesting comment. Wurster has owned the property since 2001. He has no other properties in the city, according to records.
Champlin said the city does have a nuisance ordinance in place that holds landlords accountable through fines, but that it applies mostly to structural problems. The ordinance officials are discussing would broaden that to human-based disturbances.
Champlin commended the police, who have stepped up foot patrol in the area in recent years and who speak frequently with neighbors about their concerns. Officers have spent more than 140 hours in the past five years responding to 74 Rumford St., according to a department report sent in June to councilors and Mayor Jim Bouley.
But police officials acknowledge that their tools are limited.
“We can arrest someone in there, but ultimately someone comes in to take their place and the vacuum gets filled,” said Lt. Timothy O’Malley, a spokesman. “And that’s the problem – we can’t arrest ourselves out of it.”
O’Malley said there are a handful of other properties across the city that present similar challenges. Unlike code violations, the department does not typically contact landlords when it’s called to a residence, due to privacy concerns for tenants. It does contact landlords if there is an issue that directly involves them, O’Malley said.
The code administration has had interactions with Wurster since at least 2004. In each case, agents there said, he has complied with violation notices. The most recent complaint was filed in September by a tenant who reported a cockroach infestation in her unit. According to a case report, Wurster told an agent he had ordered an extermination for the entire building, but that he might have trouble accessing one unit, which he described as filthy. The agent recommended he get a court order.
“I told him if the (apartment) was dirty, that is probably where the cockroach infestation is coming from – told him to include cleaning the apartment in the order he files,” the agent wrote. “He was argumentative with my suggestions.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)