The abrupt closure of an apartment complex in Watertown two weeks ago revealed some serious issues.

On August 8, the Code Enforcement Department sentenced 661 Factory Street Inn & Lodging in the north of the city. The building’s fire alarm system was not functioning properly and other sanitary and structural issues were raised with the 25-unit structure.

It left dozens of people with nowhere to live. Some of them were camping in tents near the Factory Street building.

Residents donated food and other items to help those without shelter. It also attracted homeless people from other parts of the city.

The tenants said the landlord told them the issues would be resolved and they could return to their apartments on August 10. But unfortunately the complex remains closed.

Timothy Ruetten, director of the Jefferson County Community Services Department, issued a press release Thursday stating that all tenants “have received basic essentials and have been connected to all community supports available to them if they are. wished ”. according to an article published Thursday by the Watertown Daily Times. Ruetten served as the ad hoc coordinator for the county’s response to the situation.

Mr. Ruetten said the county’s response began on the evening of August 9 when the Jefferson County administration asked the county’s social and community services departments, as well as the county’s public health department. de Jefferson, to mobilize, “the article reported.” Over the next 10 days, many regional agencies were tasked with providing various services, Ruetten said, including finding alternative housing; maintaining conditions site hygiene and sanitation; supply and assembly of emergency shelters on site; logistics coordination of food, water and hygiene items; crisis advice; coordination These agencies have made all possible contact with former residents of the building, Ruetten said in Thursday’s statement.

The 661 Factory Street Inn & Lodging caters to low-income tenants and is often used by government agencies to house people in need of short-term social services. The problem of helping locals who fall into this category has been exacerbated by the destruction of the Rainbow Motel last year and the recent closure of other local apartment buildings.

Congratulations to all government authorities who have helped tenants at 661 Factory Street Inn & Lodging find the services they need. They responded well to this crisis and improved the lives of those affected by the building closure.

But the incident showed how complicated roaming is in the north of the country. A faulty fire alarm system immediately displaced around 40 people.

It is rare that food and shelter need to be found for so many people in such a short time. Representatives from municipal, state and federal agencies are expected to discuss contingency plans for similar events in upstate New York.

“The Town of Watertown maintains a complaints-based code enforcement program. Our code enforcement staff respond to residential complaints about unsanitary housing conditions and, if the complaint is substantiated, initiate enforcement proceedings. A proactive rental registration and inspection program maintains an up-to-date database of rental housing locations, who owns them, and who is responsible for the property when the owner lives outside the area. In addition, those who oversee these programs perform periodic inspections to ensure that structures and units are safe and habitable. Residents can still complain, but complaints are drastically reduced with proactive approaches, ”Jennings wrote. “I recently proposed such an approach in the form of a local law to the city council. It requires registration of all rental properties. It requires the designation of a managing agent for properties whose owners do not reside or do business in Jefferson County so that issues can be resolved quickly. It delimits the responsibilities and liability of tenants. It requires triennial inspections, but only for properties that have not already been inspected by another appropriate entity. It stages implementation to a) enable landowners and municipal staff to prepare; b) complete registration first, within a six month period; and c) full start of proactive inspections over a 25 month period. It changes the city’s complaints-based system to be proactive. Most importantly, this law increases productive communication between the city and landowners to improve public health, safety and well-being, which will have a positive impact on community character, property values ​​and overall quality of life.

According to state law, the city must inspect all buildings either once a year (restaurants, bars and other businesses) or once every three years (apartment complexes, etc.). When it comes to residential structures, inspections are limited to building systems and common areas.

Jennings’ plan would also involve the inspection of individual rental units; these would be single-family houses with rooms for rent as well as collective dwellings.

If the incident at 661 Factory Street Inn & Lodging has taught us anything, it’s that it’s vital to uncover code violations as quickly as possible. The city should reconsider Jennings’ idea and implement it.

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