Just days after the Kingston Times published the story on Queen’s Galley soup kitchen and boarding house’s many woes in their dilapidating facility and their struggles with landlords to get things fixed, Executive Director Diane Reeder opened her mail to discover a notice from Kingston Fire Chief Rick Salzmann informing her of 14 building code violations. Violations which must be addressed immediately or Queen’s Galley and its approximately 40 residents will be evicted August 29.
Reeder rents three structures at the corner of Washington and Main Streets, totaling about 12,000-square-feet with 40 rooms and 13 bathrooms. Reeder was not too surprised by the letter’s eyebrow-raising content; a leaking roof and broken windows cited in Salzmann’s letters top her list of complaints to her landlords.
Since Reeder rents the former Washington Manor senior residence center for $8,500 per month — she does not get a rent reduction for making emergency repairs herself — she has found that though the community is very generous with donations to keep the soup kitchen going, people are not willing to lend a hand making repairs on an investment building owned by a conglomerate.
The violations ranged in severity from requiring ground fault interrupter outlets and moving a dead tree to repairing the back porch, replacing all broken windows and replacing the roof.
Salzmann said these infractions have been nothing new for the property. He visits the compound regularly three to four times a year, and a lack of cooperation and response from the landlords, a partnership known as the Stockade Group, has forced his department to take the stern action of setting a date to post an eviction. Salzmann said that the nature of boarding houses is that they tend to be in older homes and structures sometimes in disrepair, and require more visits than the legally mandated annual visit. While the city has made efforts in the past year or so to crack down on unruly and illegal boarding houses, Salzmann said this is not a witch-hunt.
“Obviously it’s a big deal to put a roof on a place like that. We have tried to work with the landlord,” explained Salzmann. “But when they don’t respond, we ratchet up the enforcement. It’s not a life-safety issue, but it’s a quality-of-life issue for the people inside.”
Typically, the chief said, he finds out about many of the buildings’ violations from observations made during fire department or other emergency calls. “[The Stockade Group] does correct certain issues. The larger-dollar issues are more difficult for them to deal with. They have corrected some issues. [The Stockade Group] has not responded … We have told the owners that our patience has worn out, and unfortunately [an eviction] is what we have to do to get their attention.”
Salzmann’s department has been dealing with the building since 1995, he said, and the City of Kingston has been dealing with its issues even longer.
When questioned whether was picking on the Stockade group by citing them for not having the facility power-washed, Salzmann countered, “Part of it is that these buildings are part of the neighborhood. Typically absentee landlords don’t see neighbors cleaning and cutting their lawns, and we emphasize that they need to do general exterior property maintenance.”
Waiting for word
Salzmann had not received any reply from the landlords in response to his letter. He said that at this point direct action must be taking place on the electric and roof by Aug. 29 for him to consider postponing the eviction. Salzmann said is waiting to hear from the landlords when and what they’re going to do to fix the problems. “They need to show some good-faith progress here, that’s what we’re looking for. We don’t have an interest in closing the place down with 40 people living there; we want them to have a safe residential environment. As long as Stockade Group shows us signed contracts with contractors that says repairs are underway, it’s OK. What we are looking for is cooperation and progress, but if we don’t see it we have to close the property.”
Reeder has been complaining that between Nov. 1 and May 1 her heating bills alone amounted to over $36,000 due to lack of insulation and 56 drafty windows, and cannot afford to remain open beyond this Thanksgiving. Reeder says that much of the residing population is partially disabled or more, eking by on Social Security checks, and are a half-step away from a group home or even homeless shelter.
Stockade Group partner and property manager Richard Caggiano said that he got the notice and has been slowly working the issues therein, like changing the electric fuse boxes over to circuit breakers. “We are on top of the other stuff like the electric,” he said. “We have a handyman doing some of the work, I’m sure. I had a roofer look at it today, but I haven’t gotten an estimate. $57,000 was an estimate I got a while ago. We are getting prices, and doing the best we can. I have to go look at porch myself. I think I know which one they mean.”
Caggiano said he recently gutted a bathroom and has begun work to tile, insulate and install a shower; however that bathroom was not one cited on the list of violations. He re-iterated the dilemma — seven partners formerly owned the building and one mismanaged the finances, leaving behind a tab of $230,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties which Caggiano, family court attorney Marian Boch and a Caggiano’s wife Ellen stepped up and paid. They have offered to sell the decrepit facility to Reeder for no less than $695,000, which Caggiano referred to as a “fair price,” so that they can get their “investments returned.”
“I am just doing what I can,” said Caggiano. “I don’t see how we are going to be able to do the roof. I think we need to take down the canopies. I think that it takes away from the buildings. They are Victorian style. It’s just a matter that the buildings are money pits, and that’s a problem.”
‘Neglected,’ says contractor
Tom McMahon of McMahon Home Improvement has been working on the building for years, and knows its issues well. “It’s been ignored so much, the property has really been neglected,” said McMahon. “For my job, it means that if I’m there to fix one thing, I run into other things that need to be fixed. It’s a badly neglected building. I go to fix one thing, but then I have to fix six other things too.”
McMahon cited the most major problems as water and the roof. “They are having a lot of problems in the kitchen. There are serious plumbing issues, water in the basement, there are just so many things I can’t even think of it. Roofs need to be replaced, they’re in bad shape; shingles are coming off. There’s water getting in, which damages the sheeting which lets moisture in the building, which causes mold. Gutters are in bad shape too.”
Reeder is still hopeful for a miracle. She says that she is not done fighting for her residents, and remains optimistic that some kind of win-win-win can be struck for all.