BENNINGTON — The Select Board has approved an emergency health order to clean up and secure a Gage Street house where officials said at least two people have died of a drug overdose this year.
Meeting in special session Monday afternoon, the board voted unanimously to approve the order because of “multiple serious fire and life safety violations” — noted in a report from Building Inspector and Health Officer Paul Dansereau.
He had inspected the premises at 957 Gage St. on Wednesday at the request of town police and after the most recent overdose death, officials said, deeming that the structure was unsafe for occupancy.
Dansereau and town attorney Merrill Bent prepared the formal notice upon which the health and safety order was based, citing violations in the basement that included lack of a smoke alarm; lack of a secondary exit in a basement bedroom; combustible materials less than 5 feet from a furnace; and clutter and debris.
The town also found violations on the first floor, including lack of a working smoke alarm; garbage and rotting food in the kitchen, requiring removal; a trip hazard on the entrance steps; and a rear door off its hinges, blocking a secondary exit from the building.
On the second floor, Dansereau reported finding hallway smoke alarms not working, no smoke alarms in three bedrooms, and a secondary means of escape blocked by clutter.
The order states that occupancy is not authorized other than entry to correct the health and safety violations.
The situation is complicated because the house, which town Planning Director Dan Monks said has been the object of complaints from neighbors for several years, was foreclosed on earlier this summer by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which had acted as a lender on the property.
The formal violation notice was therefore sent to Denis McDonough, secretary of Veterans Affairs, based in Nashville, Tenn., as the owner of record.
Monks said the health and safety order could be appealed, but that didn’t seem likely.
He said the hope is that the federal department will take steps to secure the building. It could also be put up for sale, he said.
“We decided we had to push this along,” Monks said of the steps taken by the town.
The foreclosure itself was delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Monks said, because of a ban on foreclosures. The action was allowed only after it was OK’d by a judge.
A next possible step if the building isn’t secured is for the town to board up the building and secure it, Monks said.
He said some of the people living there were squatters, though one person claimed to have an agreement to live there as a tenant.