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North Ivy houses under repair

Two months after city officials cracked down on three West Medford houses notorious for crime and unsafe living conditions, the neighborhood has calmed down, most residents have moved on and the landlord has begun repairs.

"It has been quiet," said Medford police Sgt. Mark Boone, who heads a team of several officers who began regular patrols on North Ivy Street after crime reports there increased last fall.

Dozens of residents were ordered in January to vacate their homes within a month after city inspectors deemed the buildings at 215, 229 and 235 North Ivy St. to be dangerous and a public nuisance. Police initiated inspections after discovering dangerous living conditions during a series of arrests.

Inspectors found code and safety violations that included a failing foundation, a leaking sewer line, inadequate heating, insect infestation, plumbing and electrical problems, construction that had been done without permits and other problems.

All three buildings, which have been converted to 13 apartments, are owned by Joseph Suste, a Medford real estate broker. He evicted five of the tenants who had recently been arrested by the police, and has said once repairs are complete he will begin a tighter tenant screening process.

Suste originally appealed the city's order that the buildings be vacated, but the city has allowed three families to remain and Suste has withdrawn his appeal.

Hugh Fechtler, inspector with the Medford Building and Safety Department, said the gas vent at 215 N. Ivy St. has been repaired and approved, and electrical contractors are making repairs. He said asbestos blankets were found wrapping the old steam boiler in the basement, and the landlord is contracting with a company for proper abatement.

Fechtler said he thinks within six months to a year the city will be going through the same process all over again. He said he doesn't think the situation is the landlord's fault, but it takes a building with a manager living on site to keep order.

Suste said he can't see that an on-site manager could make an impact. He said he's personally called the police when he found someone trying to kick in a door at one of the buildings. He said the police told him they couldn't do anything to stop the man because he lived there.

Suste said he asked the police to tell him the names of people on the property who had been arrested, and when police gave him a list of names, he asked officers to remove them because they had not signed any lease agreements.

Police told him they could not because there are specific landlord/tenant laws that regulate the eviction process and those laws are enforced by county sheriffs.

Suste said when one tenant was evicted from the property last week, she moved into another apartment with a tenant who was being evicted. Suste said he reported the woman to police, and officers told him there was nothing they could do about it.

Suste said he didn't think that an on-site manager would make any difference in dealing with such problems.

Medford police officer Tom Ianieri said removing people from property is a civil issue and according to state landlord/tenant laws, the landlord needs to go through an eviction process to force people to leave.

"Basically it's (the landlord's) responsibility to keep it cleaned up," he said.

Ianieri said he didn't know how the tone of the three houses was first established, but they've been a magnet for felons for decades.

"People who tend to get in trouble a lot tend to move in there and then they cause trouble," he said. "Most of the bad places were bad because of the people living in them."

Fechtler said he's skeptical about the neighborhood changing much, even with repairs and screening of tenants. He said it often takes newer construction and higher rents to clean up a neighborhood.

Ianieri said he thinks a turnaround is possible, especially because there are property owners in the area who care about the neighborhood.

"There's always hope," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.