Tag Archives: three deckers

YES to sprinkler systems for Worcester 3 deckers and buildings with 3 – 6 units! They save lives!

By Ron O’Clair

In a “white” paper released in May by the state Board of Building Regulations and Standards it was recommended to drop the existing Building Code Requirement to install sprinkler systems in buildings with 3-6 units when property owners decide to make improvements to the property, and that improvement reaches a threshold of 50% of asset value or higher.

That as far as I can determine from the sources I contacted for this story is the “trigger” that requires a property owner to install a sprinkler system in any building that does not have one that contains 3-6 units of housing.

This move to drop the requirement is being touted as a way to increase the amounts of affordable housing in Massachusetts.

Sprinkler systems cost anywhere from $15,000 – $30,000 for installation in existing 3 floor buildings, depending on whether or not a new water main has to be brought in from the street according to whether or not there is sufficient water pressure to support the new installation.

One developer I contacted for this story paid $15,000 alone for the new water main needed to sustain a sprinkler system due to the distance from the street, which determines overall cost of the water main installation.

Proponents of keeping the existing law in place such as William Breault of the Main South Alliance of Public Safety see the issue one way, and many developers see the issue another.

This author feels that from a safety standpoint, absolutely requiring sprinkler installation during renovations would help prevent death and injury to occupants in the event of a fire.

Many of Worcester’s old three decker houses have antiquated electrical systems that were designed for far less of a load then they currently use. Air conditioners, huge flat screen televisions, computers, refrigerators etc. all draw a large amount of electricity from the existing wiring. What originally was designed for three families at the time of installation has become outpaced by modern convenience, and what is happening in some cases is that landlords are renting out rooms individually to maximize profits, each of whom will then have their own refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, etc. – placing an overload on the existing electrical system, which can result in a fire.

I remember a case of that happening on Providence Street, #75 I believe it was, when someone on the third floor received a huge power hungry flat screen television for Christmas, plugged it in to an already overtaxed electrical system, and caused the house to catch fire. I don’t recall there being any deaths or injury, but there certainly could have been.

What price do you put on a human life?
Would installation of sprinkler systems help to save lives?

One developer was quoted as saying: “Smoke detectors save lives, sprinklers save buildings”

In my own experience here at the building in Main South I have been responsible for as the Building and Property Superintendent, one of the former tenants, Kevin C. who was in room #1 at the time, came home inebriated and fell asleep on his bed with a lit cigarette. Lucky for him, he was under the sprinkler head, as he slept through the wailing smoke detector, and it was only when the sprinkler head had activated and the water started flowing that he was able to wake up and realize that he was about to die.

In that particular case, absolutely the sprinkler system saved his life. It also saved the building, as the fire was contained and did not spread out of control.

Should the requirement be modified, or eliminated in an attempt to increase availability of affordable housing?

Kevin C. owes his life to the fact that sprinklers were installed in the rooming house he then occupied. Had he resided in a place without them he would have undoubtedly perished in the fire he himself started in his drunken condition.

Like it or not, that was certainly a case of the sprinkler system saving his life.
Safety must come first, above any other consideration. It will certainly not increase the amount of affordable housing if left in place, as costs incurred by property owners ultimately are factored into the amount they charge for rent, but I must ask again, how much is a human life worth in dollars and cents?

Crime watch meeting: Worcester landlords running illegal rooming houses

By Ron O’Clair

At the last Main South Alliance for Public Safety crime watch meeting the issue of landlords renting multi-bedroom apartments out to more then three unrelated tenants brings up the issue of running unlicensed rooming houses, as the State Law says that renting to more than three unrelated people to at least a second degree of kindred is against the law in an apartment, unless a rooming house license is obtained.

In order to get a rooming house license, these apartments have to comply with more codes than they would as an apartment. For instance, working sprinklers and fire alarms have to be installed in order to qualify for a rooming house license. There are currently no requirements to have sprinklers in Worcester apartment houses.

What is happening now is that landlords who own large rental properties with multiple bedrooms rent the rooms individually which leads to violation of the code when there are more than three unrelated individuals residing in the same apartment. This happens most frequently in neighborhoods surrounding one of our many colleges and universities. College students “room” together in an apartment they share and pay for. It’s usually three or four or more students per apartment. The landlords make a killing on the students.

These illegal rooming houses create problems with parking in the affected neighborhoods, as there are far more cars being parked in the neighborhood when several people occupy a unit that was designed for only one family.

Many other three decker owners resort to this practice when they have vacant apartments to rent, as they can get more money renting out single rooms to four people than they can get renting out the apartment to a single family.

Not many of these owners know about the law that states that renting out to more than three unrelated people is illegal.

Some of these owners are aware of the law, but choose to ignore it, and those are the ones that the City of Worcester has problems with. I believe there is a pending court action in regard to one of these cases as I write this, at least that is what I got from the meeting that I attended. City of Worcester Code Enforcement has the duty to ensure that landlords comply with the housing laws and take action when notified of these violations.

It is illegal to house more than three unrelated individuals in one apartment under current State of Massachusetts law.

Empty nests

By Edith Morgan

As I look around my neighborhood, and as I think about friends in my age range, it seems that something important has changed: the old family homestead no longer is: immigrant families once came, bought a triple decker or duplex, raised a family there, maybe brought the grandparents over, and several generations lived in the same house. The tradition in many nations (most notably, among the Irish) was that at least one of the children would remain in the family home after the parents were gone. My friend Martha, recently deceased, went back to Wareham and bought her family home; Peggy around the corner bought HER parents’ home and lived there until her death. My neighbor Bill followed the old Irish tradition also, and is still in the family home.

But now I look around my neighborhood, and more and more I see the big old gracious houses where my neighbors raised six and seven children, standing empty, waiting to be sold to strangers. And it is saddening, because something is getting lost in the fabric of neighborliness that was the glue that held together the neighborhood, provided familiarity and the safety that comes from knowing the people around you, and the comforting feeling that help and caring is always near.

Perhaps it is because we all live longer and our young ones can not have the house for so many years, or perhaps it is that so often the newer generation want to be independent, want to have the newest fixtures, want to be nearer to their work, or want to follow their spouses. Whatever the reason, what I miss most is the commitment to the neighborhood, the neighborhood school, the support for neighborhood stores, and the “nosy neighbor” who was a tradition in many neighborhoods, and could be counted upon to know who came, who went, what everyone was doing, and who would report her (it was usually a “her”) findings . a number of us grew up staying on the “straight and narrow path” because we knew we were observed and reported upon. Annoying as we might have found that, it did prevent the need for extensive foot patrols!

And of course the younger generations travel much lighter than we did (I am in my eighties, and attached to thousands of books and memorabilia) and are more likely to throw things out. I can remember how many times my mother saved something, always sure that someday it would be of use – and surprisingly often, she was right.

And so, as I watch the huge dumpsters being filled with the accretions of nearly a century, I am saddened that it all has to be taken to be crushed and burned , unwanted, unused, and no longer loved….and the many things that are memory triggers for children and grandchildren are gone, though I hope that they had a chance to save a few things that will serve to remind them.

Many large, roomy, well-built houses throughout our city sit empty, waiting for someone with imagination and an appreciation of the finer aspects of living – the high ceilings, the finely-milled woodwork, the tall old trees, the obvious care that was taken by the builders who put up these homes with a view to the future. But I worry that in this age of digital clocks, where we see only the moment, of plastic, of constant change for the sake of change, that we may not have enough imagination to see the grace and beauty in these places, and let them deteriorate. And Preservation Worcester can not do it all!