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City can inspect outside, but not inside apartment buildings

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City Fire Capt. Todd R. DeMar, an agent with the city’s code enforcement office, never entered any of the six units at a Bradley Street apartment building when he conducted an inspection last week.

He is not allowed to go inside because the city of Watertown does not have a rental inspection program.

But Watertown, like all other municipalities in the state, must conduct external inspections of rental property with three or more units every three years.

And that’s why Capt. DeMar was at the Brown and Haven Building, 515 Bradley St.

“You don’t know what you’re going to find,” he said.

During the external inspections, called “triannuals,” he and his colleague, city firefighter Malcolm “Doc” Blodgett, check on violations on the outsides of buildings and at all common areas, such as hallways and basements. It’s been a part of the state’s building codes since 1984.

The two code enforcement employees bring a sheet that includes 17 items they inspect. They look at such things as having a visible address number, the condition of the building’s foundation, chimney and vents, smoke alarms, fire escapes, windows and doors, and whether there is trash or debris on the property. Landlords do not have an inkling their buildings are inspected until after the fact.

Between the code enforcement employees, they intend to each inspect 120 rental properties this year and about three or four a day.

If there are violations, the property owner is cited and must correct the problems within 30 days. If they are not fixed, the landlord is taken to court.

As soon as he arrived at the Bradley Street building, Capt. DeMar immediately noticed one violation — no address number was on the building. On two decks at the building’s back, he also found two gas grills that tenants obviously use for barbecuing. They were a no-no because the decks are made of the wood and can easily catch fire, he said.

Smoke detectors worked in each of the three stories’ common areas, but one in the basement was missing.

“That’s a big one,” Capt. DeMar said.

He was able to enter the building’s basement only because the door was unlocked. Armed with a flashlight, Capt. DeMar made his way into the otherwise dark basement. He found a few other violations and finished the inspection within a half hour.

By the end of the workday, Capt. DeMar called owner Perry F. McIntosh to give him the news about what he’d found.

Contacted the next day, Mr. McIntosh said he understood some of the citations, but not all of them.

“We’re already working on them,” he said.

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