Friday, March 7, 2014
CHINA -- A judge signed an order Thursday to allow the town to tear down a mobile home and two outbuildings on Fire Road 60 that officials have deemed dangerous and are owned and occupied by a woman and her family.
Judith Farris, left, and her daughter, Becky Ratcliff, at the China mobile home owned by Farris, in December.
Staff file photo by Andy Molloy
Becky Ratcliff stays in an outbuilding she describes as a "bedroom" on the China property of her mother, Judith Farris, in China.
Staff file photo by Andy Molloy
Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ruled that the town proved that the buildings "create an immediate and serious threat to the public health, safety and welfare of the public and current inhabitants of the buildings."
"The current occupants have been on notice for several months that this day might come, and the court trusts the town will continue to assist them in finding alternative housing," she wrote.
Last May, the town inspected the mobile home owned by 70-year-old Judith Farris, which she shares with her 17-year-old and 19-year-old grandsons; a 10-foot-by-12-foot shed occupied by her adult daughter and son-in-law; and a detached garage. The town found that the mobile home was structurally unsound, had black mold, contained an exposed electrical panel and had a non-functioning hot water heater that leaked water under the home.
The mobile home periodically did not have running water, and the shed next door had no running water, plumbing, chimney or furnace. The garage has buckling walls, peeling paint, broken windows and rotted sills, according to court documents.
In August, the China Board of Selectmen declared the buildings dangerous and ordered Farris and her family to move out by Oct. 14. When they did not, the town took the matter to Superior Court.
Town Code Enforcement Officer Scott Pierz said Friday that he and other town officials will need to meet next week to discuss the town's next move.
Murphy ordered the town to give Farris 10 days notice before it demolishes the buildings and required it to work with an animal shelter or animal control officer in case any dogs or cats are left behind. In December, Farris said she had five cats and a dog in the mobile home, and that three cats and a dog live in the shed with her daughter.
"The town has been concerned with the health, safety and welfare of those people all along," Pierz said. "Obviously, we're not going there tomorrow, but the town will discuss, maybe with selectmen, what do we do now that we have the order."
Pierz said he's been working with local real estate agents to try to find new housing for Farris. At a court hearing in January, Farris told Murphy she has to live with other family members because she has some health issues.
Neither Farris nor any of her family answered the door at the mobile home or shed on Friday, and her son-in-law did not return a call to his cellphone.
China Town Administrator Dan L'Heureux said the town has met with Farris and members of her family since the summer in an attempt to broker a smooth transition. He said there is General Assistance money available to help them pay for new housing or moving expenses.
"I think we've been very interested in minimizing any kind of negative impact on Mrs. Farris, realizing that the situation there was really untenable," he said. "We are doing all that we possibly can to assist, realizing it's uncomfortable for everybody."
In her decision, Murphy said she had hoped that a pending Probate Court matter would have helped avoid the need for her to order the buildings' demolition. When Farris inherited the property from her partner in 1998, she got a 51 percent ownership stake, with the other 49 percent going to the son of the previous owner. The will stated that neither Farris nor the minority owner could sell the property while the other one was living.
Farris and the town have said a neighbor has expressed a willingness to buy the property.
Farris has petitioned the court to change the will to allow the sale, but Murphy wrote in her ruling that it's clear to her that no sale will occur anytime soon.
"Given the record before it, however, the court is compelled under law to issue an order due to the very dangerous condition of the buildings in question," she wrote.
Susan Cover -- 621-5643