By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BRISTOL — The new president of the Karyl Court Condo Association is claiming $97,000 in gross damages due to the town’s position on supplying water to the Beech Street property, but Bristol officials say a history of code violations, neglect, and non-payment warrants a strong stance.
Norm Hebert, who assumed leadership of the condominium association last year, attempted to get things back on track after years of complaints by the town about broken steps, doors, and windows, failure to remove trash, life-safety code violations, and, most significantly, non-payment of water and sewer bills which led the town to place liens on the property and shut off its water supply.
Hebert expected that, by paying off the $11,013 in water and sewer liens on March 2, 2017, the water would be turned back on. Instead, the town told him that, in order to resume service, the association would have to install individual meters for each unit. Hebert said the list price for the meters was $800, which would make the total cost $18,000.
Water and Sewer Superintendent Jeff Chartier said Karyl Court is a unique situation, having a single meter for the entire complex. Most condominium associations install individual meters so each owner is responsible for his own water usage.
Because Karyl Court got so far behind in paying for its water and sewer service, Chartier felt that requiring individual meters was a reasonable response by the town, and it would make it easier for the owners. He noted that water rates are lower for individual meters, which are charged at the residential rate, while a single master meter gets charged at the commercial rate.
Chartier said Karyl Court stopped paying its water and sewer bills in July 2014. The department sent a notice that water would be shut off after 30 days, but it waited until December, when the bills remained delinquent, to actually stop service.
Land Use Manager Christina Goodwin noted that the association also had failed to pay for electricity and Eversource had shut off power to the building, so there was no heat in the common area, and the town had concerns about pipes freezing.
Hebert admitted that the association had “fallen apart” when some of the owner-investors found they were having a hard time renting the units and the renters they had were failing to pay. “So the owners stopped paying as well,” he said.
Goodwin noted that problems with Karyl Court predated her employment with the town. When she first got involved with the situation in 2013, there were documented complaints about trash building up in the common areas and lack of hot water, and in one case, no working refrigerator.
Prior to the town shutting off the water, two of the owners had their own meters installed so they could keep up with water and sewer payments, and after the shutoff, another owner had one installed. The owner of the fourth occupied unit carried water and used a camp shower.
Hebert brought his concerns to the Bristol Board of Selectmen in a Jan. 2 email, saying that to expect the 12 remaining unit owners to agree to install individual meters was overly optimistic.
“The overwhelming majority of these owners were behind in their condo fees by many thousands of dollars; ...seven of these units were currently in litigation and the remainder would likely soon be, such that obtaining written consent from all 12 of them so as to effect this conversion would be ‘impossible,’” he wrote.
Noting that the town had been billing for water service for 10 months while prohibiting access, Hebert asked that “all water and sewer fees billed from March 3, 2017, until whenever the existing common meter is ‘properly connected’ should be waived in full, and the re-connection of our water service should be undertaken immediately!”
The selectmen agreed to remove the requirement that all owners had to agree to individual meters, but in order to have water service, they would have to install the meters. They also agreed to waive the charges between November 2017 and March 2018, as well as the impact fees and labor costs associated with the installation of the meters, which lowered the per-meter charge from $600 to $485. They also agreed to hold the rates to the previous level, rather than implementing the 5 percent increase that selectmen had approved at the end of 2017. Those rates will be offered through Jan. 1, 2019, after which regular rates would apply.
The town’s response was accompanied by a letter from Fire Chief Ben LaRoche, outlining the steps the association would have to take to meet state fire codes. Among them: only owners, not tenants, are allowed to occupy the units until the fire and life-safety concerns are addressed; the non-operational fire alarm system needs to updated and tested; emergency lighting must be installed; hallways and exits must be free of obstructions; and a rear door has to be replaced.
Goodwin noted that any construction with a cost of more than $2,000 requires a land use permit from the town.
“I’m taking care of all the issues relating to fire safety,” Hebert said, adding that alarm specialists will be installing a new system and emergency lighting on Feb. 21, with LaRoche inspecting and testing the equipment that afternoon.
“I’ll be all set with the fire department, and I never had a problem with them,” Hebert said. “This is all about the water. I don’t even have a problem with the individual meters; I would just like some kind of break on the cost.
“They left us with no water for 10 months, until mandating the new meters. They just gave me an ultimatum, and won’t talk with me. They told me I was persona non grata and wouldn’t even let me come into the building.”
Town officials deny banning Hebert from the Bristol Municipal Building.
This story has been updated to include new information.