A six-unit apartment building at 96 Pearl St. in Essex Jct. is pictured above. The selectboard voted to pursue legal action against the building owner after learning the complex had been overrun with cockroaches. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

A six-unit apartment building at 96 Pearl St. in Essex Jct. is pictured above. The selectboard voted to pursue legal action against the building owner after learning the complex had been overrun with cockroaches. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

The selectboard voted to pursue a lawsuit against a building owner whose six-unit apartment complex at 96 Pearl St. has been overrun with cockroaches.

The decision came during the board’s Aug. 29 meeting, a week after town health officer Jerry Firkey issued an emergency order to one of the building’s tenants.

Tenant Stacy Davis and building owner Robert Shea, who purchased the building last December, had five business days to appeal the decision. Neither did.

Acting as the board of health, the selectboard also upheld Firkey’s emergency health orders instructing Shea to contract a pest control company to fumigate the building. Additionally, Davis must remove anything that might serve as food or breeding ground for the cockroaches.   

The orders remain until the board votes to terminate them.

Firkey said the apartment has been on his radar since April, when he received multiple complaints regarding a foul odor, trash and cockroaches on the property.

During his initial inspection of Davis’ unit, Firkey found “countless garbage bags being used for decaying food products and other items of unknown origin, used toilet paper on the floor and in closets as well as spilled and decaying food products on the floors,” according to his memo to the selectboard.

He also observed cockroaches and other bugs crawling around the floors, counters, walls and inside of boxes and garbage bags.

“They’re all over … it’s deplorable,” Firkey said at last week’s meeting.

Firkey said he and deputy health officer Sharon Kelley wore masks when entering Davis’ unit.

Firkey returned to inspect units 3 and 4, where he found evidence of significant cockroach infestations. He said he’s concerned for the health of the building’s occupants.

“We need to do something, and we need to do something now,” he said, adding one of the building’s tenants has a newborn baby.

The couple is leaving by September 10, Shea said. Another of his tenants had to leave by the start of this month after losing their housing voucher, and the basement unit is already empty, he said.

Shea plans to renovate the entire building and has no problem fumigating each unit.

“But I can’t do anything ‘til [Davis] goes,” he said.

Shea said Firkey’s assessment “is absolutely true,” but any attempt to get into Davis’ apartment has been “futile.”

Shea said when he attempted to remove the garbage bags in her unit, she claimed it was her personal property.

“At that point, legally, I have no right to take the stuff,” he said.   

Shea said Davis has lived in the apartment for about 10 years, and the process to evict her is well underway.

He first filed a no-cause eviction, allotting Davis 90 days to leave. She refused entry to the sheriff six times, forcing Shea to head back to court to obtain a tack order, allowing the sheriff to leave the notice on her door, he said.

Shea said he’s also filed for an eviction, citing the condition of the unit, but Davis remains. He’s is now awaiting a court-ordered writ of possession. This will give Davis 10 business days to leave before the sheriff can forcibly remove her from the premises.

“At this point, what do you want me to do?” Shea asked the selectboard.

Kelley empathized with Shea’s struggle but urged the selectboard to vote in favor of preparing litigation to keep the process moving forward.

“From the conditions Jerry and I saw from the entire building, something needs to happen,” she said. “If that is a civil case, then so be it.”

No hearing date was set in Shea’s eviction action as of August 31, town attorney Andrew Bolduc wrote in an email. In light of this, he expected to file the lawsuit soon.

Shea said the situation has caused him an “unbelievable” amount of frustration.

“I’d rather live outside than live in that apartment,” he said.