The owner of a Scotia apartment building flooded out by Tropical Storm Irene has been cited by the village for code violations for allegedly doing repairs incorrectly and without proper permits.
Ben Banerjee faces a trial in village court on Sept. 27 for not obtaining the permits to work on the building at 5-7 Livingston Ave., which was condemned last September following flooding from the Mohawk River. Banerjee said he was trying to accomplish the repairs as quickly as possible.
A total of 32 properties along Washington, Schonowee and Livingston avenues were affected by the flooding, according to village officials.
Building Inspector Luis Aguero said the furnace, hot water tank and electrical panels were all ruined.
The owner was slow in getting the water removed, according to Aguero.
“There was no pumping or anything done to get the water out of the basement for about three weeks,” he said.
The property then was left vacant and should have stayed that way until permits were obtained from his office. In March, he was informed that the building was occupied. However, no plumbing, heating or building permits were obtained while the owner was doing renovations.
When he inspected, Aguero allegedly found that the gas connections were done incorrectly. Banerjee had used corrugated stainless steel tubing, which is not properly certified for that use, the village said. The electrical work was not done properly and there are not enough smoke detectors, according to the village.
Other problems are mold in the basement and lack of a second means of access for the third-floor apartment, according to the village.
“The apartments are not safe,” Aguero said.
Aguero said any court punishment is less important than correcting the problem.
“My objective is to have good safe housing for people in the village,” he said.
Banerjee said he needed to get the repairs done right away after Irene hit because the cost would have doubled or even tripled because of the demand for contractors after the storm.
Banerjee believes his roughly 100-year-old structure is grandfathered from the building requirements.
He said his repairs made the structure better than it was before the flooding, although not necessarily up to the lengthy standards of a modern building.
“If you follow the code, I have to tear down the whole place and start over again,” he said.
Banerjee, who has lived in the village for 37 years and worked as an engineer for GE, said he never had one violation in his nearly 30-year career as a landlord.
According to Banerjee, a disgruntled tenant who stopped paying rent tipped off the village’s code enforcement department.
A trial has been set for Sept. 27, unless Banerjee corrects the problems.
“I’m hoping that he will get it fixed quickly and we won’t have to go to trial,” said Village Attorney Lydia Marola.
Mayor Kris Kastberg said Banerjee tried to get some financial help from FEMA, but since it is a rental property he did not qualify for assistance.
Kastberg said it is very important to go through the proper process to make sure a qualified person is doing the work.
“The worst-case scenario is you would rent that building to a group of people and that there would be a disaster,” he said.