Edgartown firefighters put out a small fire at 9 Slough Cove Road on Saturday, December 29. Firefighters contained the fire to a laundry area in a garage, where they discovered two illegal apartments and an office being used as living space.
Fire Chief Peter Shemeth notified town building inspector Lenny Jason and health agent Matt Poole. On Sunday, town officials inspected the property and confirmed the violations.
“Based on that inspection, the board of health finds that the dwelling is unfit for human habitation,” Mr. Poole wrote in an emergency condemnation and order to vacate sent to homeowner Robert Sequeira on Wednesday.
Mr. Poole said Mr. Sequeira partitioned the garage to create three separate living spaces, without any permits for construction, plumbing, septic systems, or electrical connections. He said several very obvious safety violations were evident when town officials inspected the garage, including wiring in disrepair and dangerous condition. The town ordered electrical service to the garage disconnected.
The notice orders all occupants out of the building, and requires Mr. Sequeira to secure the garage so no one can enter.
“We have an understanding with the owner, and his assurance, there will be no occupancy from this point forward,” Mr. Poole said.
All the residents of the illegal apartments have found other housing, according to Mr. Poole. The cause of the fire, which began in a clothes dryer, is still under investigation.
In 2009, the town took Mr. Sequeira to court after neighbors complained of what they termed an illegal junk yard on the property. The town eventually asked Edgartown District Court to dismiss its complaint, after Mr. Sequeira removed junk cars, appliances, and storage tanks from the property.
Mr. Poole said that illegal apartments are not uncommon, but finding them and enforcing local health and safety regulations is difficult.
“In my experience they are almost always seriously unsafe, usually related to safe exits in the event of an emergency,” Mr. Poole said. “This time of the year, heating is often some sort of unsafe arrangement. In the summer it’s often chronic and excessive dampness, which leads to mold. It’s definitely a problem.”