The fight vs. blight at 97 Mt. Ida Rd.

97 Mt. Ida Road: Officials continue to fight to have the building demolished. Photo courtesy City of Boston Inspectional Services Department97 Mt. Ida Road: Officials continue to fight to have the building demolished. Photo courtesy City of Boston Inspectional Services DepartmentThe blighted, fire-damaged, sagging, cat food-filled three-decker at 97 Mt. Ida Rd. on Meetinghouse Hill, which was initially boarded up and condemned in 2003, remains on site today, to the consternation of neighbors and city officials who are still hoping to see a resolution of the situation this week.

The story of the dilapidated house, its landlord, the neighborhood, and the city is a long and convoluted one. It began in September 2003 when a city inspectional services investigator toured the premises and found numerous violations of the building codes, and then into October when it was condemned and boarded up after a hearing. There have been numerous twists and turns in the interim leading up to this week as the landlord, James Dickey, continued his fight in the courts and officials kept after their case.

Neighbors had tipped inspectors about the house and its substandard condition in a 2003 letter, according to court documents.

While permitted repairs were being done on Dickey’s three-family building in September 2003, inspectional services investigator Edward Kennedy discovered “many violations of the State Sanitary Code” and concluded the building was unfit for human habitation and ordered that it be condemned and vacated.

Kennedy’s conclusions were outlined in a defamation suit brought to the appeals court in 2008 by Dickey against a former tenant, James Warren, alleging that Warren had lied about problems with a furnace in the Mt. Ida apartment, causing serious harm to him at the October 2003 condemnation hearing.

The court determined that while Warren may have misstated certain facts about the furnace, the house was in such appalling condition that it certainly would have been condemned anyway. It dismissed Dickey’s suit, but he had a different legal tactic brewing. In 2010, he filed suit against inspector Kennedy, alleging extortion. That suit, too, was dismissed. The Reporter could not reach the landlord for comment.

After the initial condemnation hearing in 2003, Dickey was told that repairs could be made that could eventually lift the condemnation order. But over the next few years, inspectors continued to find that he was not keeping up with a schedule of repairs.

Which brings the property’s troubled history to Aug. 30, 2011, when an early afternoon fire gutted the unoccupied house. Damage was put at $300,000, according to the Boston Fire Department. The building has remained uninhabitable since, and the city has continued to issue emergency sanitary and building code violations.

“For five years, the building it has been open to the elements,” said William “Buddy” Christopher, commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department. He called the house “an economic blight on an otherwise stable neighborhood.”

Mt. Id Rd neighbors concur fully in Christopher’s assessment. They have flooded city officials and journalists with messages expressing their frustration at how long the house has sat on their street with no action taken to follow the rules and remove it. One neighbor told of being asked to call police if Dickey was seen on the property.

Finally, or so the neighbors thought, demolition was finally set when Mayor Walsh green-lighted the action on Sept. 16 after city inspectors executed an administrative search warrant on the property and found the building to be so structurally compromised that the commissioner would not allow his inspectors to move too far into the home for fear that floors would give way.

The rear staircase was found to be demolished, and as for the front staircase, “not only will I not let them walk on it, I will not let them walk under it,” Christopher said. Hundreds of cans of cat food were strewn about inside, evidence suggesting that someone had been feeding strays.

After a post-inspection condemnation and demolition was scheduled for today (Nov. 5), inspectional services learned that the landlord had obtained a restraining order against demolition from the housing court. A hearing to overturn that order is scheduled for tomorrow (Fri., Nov. 6). If the appropriate court overturns the restraining order, the city will have to wait another week to line up demolition.
So it sits, charred, warped, and uninhabitable.

“We’re not in the habit of ripping down buildings,” said Christopher, adding, “tearing down a house is a last resort.” But, he added, recommending razing a building “in such a dilapidated state is very simple for us.”