December 18, 2012

China delays eviction of elderly woman's family from ramshackle property

Town awaits court's condemnation order, is sensitive to the holiday season, official says

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

CHINA -- The town will not take action before Christmas to evict a 70-year-old China woman and her family from their Fire Road 60 property despite concerns that their living conditions are unsafe, Code Enforcement Officer Scott Pierz said Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

Judith Farris, left, and her daughter, Becky Ratcliff, may be moving from their China home, if the town carries out an order to raze the trailer and outbuilding.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

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

The town is awaiting an order of condemnation from Kennebec County Superior Court, which could come any day. But action has been delayed because Judith Farris and her family say they were not properly notified of a November hearing.

Pierz said although the town is ready to move forward when the court order is signed, he is sensitive to the time of year.

"It's a few days before Christmas," Pierz said. "I don't think anybody's interested in putting her out of the buildings."

In a letter to the court dated Friday, Farris writes that she did not receive notice until a day after the hearing was held.

"I would like to have an opportunity to be able to have my say," she wrote.

Town Attorney Alton Stevens said the town followed proper procedure and sent the notice by certified mail on Nov. 19 for the hearing scheduled for Nov. 26.

"I'm hoping it's not going to reopen the whole case," he said.

The town became alarmed about the conditions in May, when an inspection showed trash, leaking water, black mold and "an extremely strong smell of ammonia from multiple cats and dogs urinating and defecating on the floor," according to a town inspection report. For at least eight years before that, the town periodically ordered Farris to clean up trash and junked vehicles in the yard.

In August, the China Board of Selectmen ordered that the premises be vacated no later than Oct. 14 and that the buildings be removed. When Farris and her family did not leave, the town filed a complaint in court to ask for permission to demolish what it describes as dangerous buildings.

Farris lives in a modified mobile home with her two grandsons, ages 19 and 17. Her daughter, Becky Ratcliff, lives with her husband in a 10-foot-by-12-foot shed. An electrical cord runs from the mobile home to the shed. There is also a detached garage with an old roof, peeling paint and broken windows.

Earlier this month, Farris and Ratcliff said the town was picking on them because they are poor people living in a rich neighborhood. Their property is among summer cottages and year-round homes on China Lake. Although the yard is littered with trash bags, loose garbage and dozens of empty Dunkin' Donuts cups, Ratcliff said they have a working heat source and there is running water in the mobile home.

"It's better than living under a bridge or in the cars," she said during the Dec. 6 interview. "It's just not pretty."

She did not return a call on Tuesday.

Pierz said he is continuing to look for other housing options for Farris, who inherited 51 percent of the property in 1998 from Donald N. Thibodeau, her partner. Thibodeau gave 49 percent ownership to his son, Stephen R. Thibodeau, and stipulated that the property cannot be sold by either party unless one of them dies.

Susan Cover -- 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com

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