More than two months after her Naugatuck apartment was declared illegal, Florence Gaskill is still in search of a new place to call home.
For the better part of the past two years, Gaskill was living in a basement apartment at 397 High St. But that all changed after the apartment was condemned late last year.
On Dec. 30, the apartment was inspected and determined to be illegal by borough Building Inspector Bill Herzman.
Herzman said his department received a complaint from the Fire Marshal’s Office about the apartment after a regular inspection by the fire marshal.
After examining the apartment, Herzman found a number of violations there, including an inadequate egress, the lack of fire separation, unsafe electrical wiring and a lack of traps for the plumbing.
The apartment was in clean living condition, Herzman said. But, he explained, the other issues with it made the apartment unsafe, and it was condemned.
“It was just a total wreck,” Herzman said.
In some condemnations, Herzman explained, the problems can be repaired to make an apartment or home meet codes.
“However,” he said, “that wasn’t the case in this one.”
With her apartment condemned, Gaskill began looking for a new place to live with the assistance of the borough.
Under the state’s Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, the borough is legally bound to help people whose apartment or home has been subject to code enforcement actions.
Mayoral Aide Ed Carter, who worked with Gaskill, explained the borough has helped many people, under the act, for various reasons, including house fires or for broken pipes in an apartment building.
“We look at each case individually,” Carter said. “We try to assist people as much as we can.”
The borough’s expenses in such incidents are billed to the landlord and if the landlord doesn’t pay, Carter said, a lien is put on their property.
“It’s reimbursable money to us,” Carter said.
In Gaskill’s case, the borough paid for her to stay in a Waterbury motel beginning on Feb. 24 and assisted her, along with her former landlord, to search for a new apartment.
However, the town stopped paying for her motel last Tuesday after the two sides disagreed over an apartment.
Gaskill said her former landlord first showed her an apartment in Waterbury, which she liked. However, she said, she couldn’t afford to live there.
Gaskill explained she’s been unemployed for two years and has no income at the moment.
“My situation is difficult,” Gaskill said.
A second apartment they looked at wasn’t in good shape, Gaskill said.
A third apartment on Svea Avenue in Naugatuck led to the dispute between Gaskill and the borough.
Gaskill described the apartment, which is on the third floor of a home owned by her former landlord, as“squalor.”
The apartment is up to code according to borough officials.
Herzman, who said he hadn’t seen the apartment, explained the home was built prior 1971 when national building codes were established. He said though the apartment meets fire codes.
Herzman said the building had leaking plumbing and issues with heating but that the landlord was fixing those problems.
Carter said the apartment wasn’t in the best condition but it was a place for Gaskill to live and the landlord offered it to her at the same rent she was paying at her old apartment.
“I’m not going to say it was the Taj Mahal,” Carter said. “But it was livable.”
Gaskill said Carter urged her to take the apartment early last week. But she refused because she felt it was too filthy and she couldn’t manage walking up three flights of stairs constantly.
After she refused the apartment, the borough stopped paying for the motel.
Gaskill said in fairness Carter did help in her search. Now, she said, she feels as if the borough is washing their hands of her.
“I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place,” Gaskill said. “I’m being squeezed.”
Carter said that the landlord found Gaskill an apartment and fulfilled his responsibility under the state law. He said the borough can’t continue to charge the landlord anymore for its expenses in this case, and did what it could to help, including offering to contact other state agencies to assist Gaskill.
Gaskill has retained an attorney through the Connecticut Network for Legal Aid, a legal service for people with low income, in an attempt to negotiate money for expenses, including the first month’s rent and security deposit from the borough.
The Uniform Relocation Assistance Act states for people displaced from dwellings they have occupied for at least 90 days (owners or tenants) the acquiring agency must pay the rent for a comparable dwelling, up to a maximum of $ 4,000.
Gaskill argued the borough as not reached the $4,000 threshold.
The borough hadn’t received the motel bills as of early this week, Carter said. But, he estimated the costs to be in the several hundreds of dollars.
Attorney Cesar L. Sousa of the law firm Fitzpatrick, Mariano & Santos is handling the case for the borough. As of early this week, Sousa said he was still looking to set up a meeting with Gaskill’s legal representation and the matter was in the preliminary phases.
“As of right now, we are still in the negotiating stages,” Sousa said Tuesday.
Gaskill said she’s not expecting the Taj Mahal and is only looking for a safe, clean legal place to live.
“I’m not out to get more than I deserve by any means,” Gaskill said. “But I do want some justice.”