Belmont Citizen Herald: Evacuated tenants back in Belmont apartment after weeks of waiting and wondering

September 13, 2021

James Waugh was eating in the kitchen of his Belmont apartment on Aug. 13, when he was suddenly interrupted by pounding on his door. Much to his surprise, there were firefighters standing on the other side.

“I had no warning whatsoever and was ordered to leave my apartment immediately,” said Waugh.

Approximately 75 residents of the 65-year-old building at 125 Trapelo Road were evacuated by Belmont firefighters after they received a call from the property manager a little less than two months after the collapse of the Surfside condominium complex in Florida.

How decision to evacuate was made

Bob Linney of Great North Property Management said his decision to evacuate the building was based on an alarming email he received that morning from Helen Watts, senior structural engineer with Criterium Engineers. That company had performed a visual inspection of the building on Aug. 12 to evaluate cracking of the brick masonry on the exterior and in the interior common and living spaces. Her email stated, “In my opinion, the occupants of the building are at risk, which is indicated by the new and progressing cracking. They should be removed until the building is reinforced.”

Watts wrote she was concerned the load from rooftop telecommunications equipment had caused damage to the exterior wall system, and that the connection between the concrete slabs and the concrete block wall had loosened.

For three weeks, the evacuated residents were left in limbo. Some found friends to stay with but many stayed at hotels or found new places to rent. On Sept. 2, all of the displaced tenants were informed by Heath Properties, owners of the 26 rental units in the 41-unit building, that they would be allowed to return on Sept. 4.

Results of investigation
Criterium Engineers conducted an investigation of the building following the evacuation which determined it was safe for occupants to return. A letter from Criterium to the attorney representing 125 Trapelo, LLC dated Aug. 27 states they did find evidence that brick veneer is coming loose and some bricks could become fully dislodged and fall off. They recommend the construction of sturdy canopies at the entrances to the building extending out 6 feet, and a barrier or canopy around the entire perimeter of the building to prevent anyone from getting within 6 feet of the building, except at the entrances with canopies.

Criterium will prepare a comprehensive report recommending further investigation of the installation of the roof-mounted equipment and for restoring the integrity of the brick facade. They recommend any work done to the roof be reviewed and approved before being implemented.

According to Glenn Clancy, Belmont director of Community Development, someone owns an easement for the roof that allows them to contract with the cell companies, but he did not know who.

Tenants recap their ordeal and receive help from the state

Waugh, 70, has been a rental tenant in the building since 2003. He said he has an underlying respiratory condition and was being extra careful during the pandemic to prevent exposure to COVID. Being outside his apartment made him very uneasy. He also was instructed by firefighters not to lock his door when he was evacuated which also made him uncomfortable.

“I sat around for 10 hours in hot, horrible weather,” he said. “It became increasingly apparent this was going to be a longer affair.”

Waugh stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in Waltham with assistance from the state. Elected officials working with the Secretary of Housing Michael Kennealy mobilized the American Red Cross, Boston Metro Housing, MEMA, Belmont Helps and town officials to respond.

Metro Housing Boston started a fundraising campaign for the displaced tenants who needed assistance. The campaign has raised more than $20,000 to help cover their temporary housing and moving expenses.

Another rental tenant of Heath Properties, Nei Rossatto described the evacuation as a nightmare.

“I’ve faced lots of difficult situations before, but nothing compares to this one. I moved to this country looking for security, better education for my daughters and also a more civil culture that we don’t have enough of in Brazil,” said Rossatto.

Rossatto, his wife, and their two daughters, 12 and 3, as well as two aunts who were visiting, moved into the building on July 1. Forty-four days later, they were left wondering when they would be able to move back into their apartment. They rented in Somerville temporarily for 19 days and are now renting another home in Belmont.

Rossatto has hired attorney Arthur Hardy-Doubleday to assist with a lawsuit for irreparable harm against Health Properties.

Nazareth Tenkerian purchased his condominium on the sixth floor in 2012. Prior to the building evacuation, he sold the condominium because he was planning to move to Florida. However, the buyer changed her mind and decided to move out. He is hoping he will still be able to sell it.

Tenkerian’s door was damaged from the firefighters who broke it open to gain entrance when they were evacuating the building and he wasn’t at home.

Sam Banankhah, a former tenant, had to get a new apartment after staying in a hotel for one week because he did not know when he was going to be allowed to move back in and it was difficult for him to get to work from the hotel.

“It was pretty harrowing. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of unknowns and we were  just kind of holding our breath for a very long time,” said Banankhah.

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