Updated, 8:41 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK – Owners of 23 multi-family dwellings have been sent final notices that they must make their properties available for inspection by the Fire Marshal’s office. If they don’t, state officials will obtain administrative warrants to force compliance.
“We’ve tried everything to get these owners to set an inspection date,” Norwalk Fire Marshal Broderick Sawyer said at Tuesday’s Fire Commission meeting. “They haven’t gotten back to us.”
Sawyer said the notices, sent by certified mail, start the process of obtaining an administrative warrant to compel access for an inspection. At that point, he said, prosecutors who address housing matters in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney will take over.
“The owners then face fines and it gets expensive,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer noted that there are about 1,200 residential properties in the city containing three or more apartments that must be examined by his inspectors, so having to send out only 23 letters “is pretty good,” he said.
Mayor Harry Rilling, who also serves as a Fire Commissioner, underscored the point. “There’s so many people that will try to say the inspections in Norwalk aren’t being done, and the inspections are being done. You’re almost caught up, but when people don’t respond, we take the appropriate action,” Rilling said.
Contacting the owners of uninspected properties is often complicated because they live elsewhere.
Some live in Florida, Sawyer said, and in some cases all city officials have is a P.O. Box.
He said he has proposed having inspection notices be included in city tax bills. “That way,” he said, “if the taxes get paid, we know the owner has seen the notice.”
Growing Demand For Inspections
Including himself and the Deputy Fire Marshal, Sawyer said his office has 10 full-time members conducting inspections, along with two part-time inspectors. He advised the city’s three fire commissioners that, with The SoNo Collection mall’s planned opening in October and several apartment buildings under development, his office is facing an increasing workload.
“In the next few years,” he said, “we’re gonna have 3,000-plus new dwelling units in Norwalk, and over a million square feet of retail, office and restaurant space.”
The mall is already having an impact, because it will have nearly 100 tenants, each requiring individual inspections, and requests for those inspections have started to come in, Sawyer said.
“Which means the (regular) inspections suffer, because they’re doing other things now,” Fire Chief Gino Gatto said.
“So probably it would be important to have some sort of a laid out strategic plan on how we’re going to deal with that,” Rilling observed.
“We started that dialogue already,” replied Gatto. “But we’re not ready to present it.”