homeowners

Wayne Alarm: Security tips renters should know

SAFETY TIP OF THE DAY

SPONSORED BY WAYNE ALARM AND HONEYWELL.

Renters are just as likely to have burglary, a fire, and any other form of danger that any homeowner can experience as well. Renting a home can be an entirely different experience, however, since it all depends on the landlord. There is nothing to worry about, there are still options on securing your apartment!

  1. As most common entrances for burglary are through windows and back doors, it’s important to ensure they are closed at all time. If your door doesn’t have a deadbolt, and your landlord won’t provide one, see if you can install one yourself, or even a chain lock. If a deadbolt is installed, consider asking the landlord to replace it, provide them with a spare key if necessary.
  2. Strike plates, the metal plate on your door frame, are often found old and worn out in rental homes. This means it is not as secure as it once was. Instead, try replacing the screws with longer ones to secure it or replace it with a more secure plate altogether.

When living on the first floor of a building, windows should be your main priority. You want to always make sure all of your windows lock.

  1. Most importantly, however, don’t make it easier for thieves to hide.  Avoid having tall plants or shrubbery near your windows and use a rod on the tracks of a sliding window or sliding a glass door. Since these don’t require much maintenance or work to do in a rental, making it perfect for renters.
  2. Avoid placing your most valuable items near your windows. You don’t necessarily have to hide your valuables, but don’t place big screen TVs and such by the windows as it can intrigue thieves to take it.

Most importantly, make sure you’re aware of your neighbors and get to know them. Not only can they help in case of any emergency, but can also share any privacy concern that they might have. It also helps to keep a line of communication between your landlord and yourself, so you can feel comfortable in bringing any security concerns.

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Is the Swampscott rail trail worth it?

COURTESY PHOTO
A map of the proposed Swampscott rail trail.

YES: Alexis Runstadler, pro-trail abutter and co-chair of Yes for Swampscott Campaign

Love Swampscott — Vote Yes for the Rail Trail.

Courtesy photo

Runstadler

The Swampscott Rail Trail is about community. It is about a 2-mile linear park throughout our town for every neighborhood, every resident.  After 30 years of discussion and debate, now is the time to move this project forward.

Last month, Swampscott Town Meeting overwhelming approved (by a vote of 210 to 56) ($850,000 in) funding for the Rail Trail to move forward with design and engineering of the trail and acquisition of easement rights.  

The Rail Trail is unanimously sponsored by the Selectmen and endorsed by the Finance Committee, Capital Improvement Committee, School Committee, Planning Board, Open Space Committee and Conservation Commission.  However, as is too familiar in Swampscott, a small group of abutters to the National Grid utility corridor want to prevent progress by overturning Town Meeting’s overwhelming vote for the Rail Trail.

A recent letter from these abutters to voters included a lot of inaccurate information. Here are the facts:

The Rail Trail will be solely within the existing National Grid utility corridor, which only National Grid maintains and pays taxes on.

Title examinations on the corridor confirm ownership by National Grid, the Town, and Tedesco Country Club.

No abutter along the corridor has established any ownership to the utility corridor.  The abutters’ own attorney has stated that abutters have completed no title examinations to support a claim of ownership.

The Town is working with National Grid to secure recreational easements using eminent domain – a common way for towns to acquire easements as it cures potential title defects.

Many Massachusetts communities have used eminent domain to create rail trails.

Only property within the utility corridor will be impacted.  No homes will be impacted.

Multiple appraisals establish the value for the recreational easement at not more than $430,000.

Over $175,000 in private donations have already been secured for construction of the trail.  As in other towns, state funding will also be secured to construct the trail.

A lot of good things are happening in Swampscott right now.  Let’s keep it going.  Swampscott deserves the Rail Trail.  Please vote ‘yes’ on Thursday, June 29.


NO: Charles Patsios, Swampscott Town Meeting member and developer

Courtesy photo

Patsios

He wants the rail trail, but not without knowing what the costs are to the town and what the impacts are to other residents.

No other community in Massachusetts has created a trail like this using eminent domain — (it is) a human rights violation to take property against the will of a homeowner for something that is not a great public need. All others have been able to do the hard work of building community consensus.

Approximately 90 abutters have title to the land.

The $850,000 is just a down payment. The full cost to make this project happen will be north of $4 million.

The average price of a home in Swampscott is almost $500,000. To take land from a home will require that the town pay at least 10 percent of the value of the home. This is compensating the homeowner for the diminished value of their own land, as well as paying them for the actual property. Ten percent is a low estimate. It is the estimate used in class action suits that always result in lower payments than to individuals who fight the taking by themselves. Using 10 percent, that means each homeowner will need to be paid $50,000. With 90 homeowners, that is $4.5 million. Add $850,000 and you are north of $5 million — it will increase taxes and is better used elsewhere.

Our elementary schools are falling apart: At some time, we will need a new school. Swampscott taxes are some of the highest in the state. Taxpayers are not going to keep paying and paying. We need to prioritize and we should not prioritize a trail over a school.

This project is being pushed through by the Board of Selectmen using the same tactics they used on the Machon School, the Greenwood Avenue debacle, and the failed elementary school: marginalize and demonize those that oppose it; tell the public it won’t cost that much (but never discuss the full costs); bring the issue to Town Meeting, but not the town at large; and rig the debate at Town Meeting so that proponents have as much time as they need to make their case.

 

A glimpse into the future

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Construction slowed traffic last week on the Lynnway.

The good news is that the sewer pipe repair project that snarled the Lynnway for most of last week is over and done with. The bad news is that the traffic slowdowns, the stop-and-start crawls through a single traffic lane, could become a semi-common occurrence locally over the next 10 years.

Last week’s sewer line repair ensured Nahant can continue to send its sewage to the Water and Sewer Commission’s Commercial Street extension waste treatment complex. The repairs represented an immediate fix that needed to be done. But Water and Sewer is weighing the pros and cons of a much larger project, one that involves spending $100 million-plus to end partially treated sewage discharges into the ocean.

Federal environmental officials want the discharges stopped and they want to see detailed plans for ending the overflows. Combined storm sewer overflow work (CSO) dates back, planning-wise, almost 40 years with significant work undertaken in East Lynn in the 1990s.

Simply defined, the work is aimed at ending or, at least, reducing occasions when water runoff from heavy rains overwhelms the Commercial Street extension treatment plants and sends partially-treated sewage into the ocean. Creating a new pipe network exclusively for rainwater prevents discharges but it also represents a costly, inconvenient nuisance for city residents.

Water and Sewer officials have already estimated rates could double over the next 10 years. Homeowners now paying between $600 and $1,000 annually for water and sewer service could pay double those amounts late into the next decade.

Wallet lost, and found

Water and Sewer commissioners and City Council members have argued back and forth about the need for more CSO work and how much work should be done. They point out that Lynn is well ahead of many other communities when it comes to providing clean quality water and efficiently-treated sewage.

The city’s rates, by contrast, are lower than ones paid by many residents in communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. But with federal regulatory attention focused on the city, Water and Sewer probably cannot avoid spending significant amounts of money on added CSO projects.

Proposals for new work center on West Lynn, specifically Bennett and Oakville streets, and the waterfront where, depending on the plan under discussion, projects ranging in description from massive to small-scale, are proposed for the Lynnway.

If federal pressure grows for CSO work to be done locally, it will fall to someone in elected office to define the scope of work required and build political consensus around the project required to get the work done.

Crucial to the consensus-building will be the realization that putting pipes under city streets means traffic slowdowns, inconvenience, frayed tempers and economic disruptions. If CSO work has to get done, it will get done, but Lynn residents deserve to be told what they will have to endure before the pain begins.

O’Brien: Lender hurt homeowners

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  Southern Essex Register of Deeds John O’Brien applauded the Division of Banks’ decision to temporarily suspend Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC’s ability to do business in Massachusetts.

“Ocwen is a financially troubled company that has been misleading and hurting innocent homeowners for some time now,” said O’Brien in a statement. “In their quest for financial gain, Ocwen has been victimizing these homeowners and it has to stop.”

Massachusetts took the action Monday with more than 20 other states to address issues related to the Florida-based company’s operations.

Ocwen services 34,472 loans in the Bay State. Of that number, 1,256 mortgages are held by homeowners who own property in southern Essex County since 2004.

Among other violations, the commissioner charged Ocwen has failed to accurately manage escrow accounts.

A violent encounter left his best friend dead

The multistate examinations and monitoring revealed serious violations of consumer protection statutes and regulations and significant concerns with Ocwen’s ability to remain a growing concern, the state said.

“With the filing of these actions it gives me hope these homeowners will see an end to this injustice and that Ocwen will finally be held accountable for their actions,” O’Brien said.

Of paramount concern is the company’s deteriorating financial condition. Ocwen has lost nearly $1 billion since 2014, and will not be profitable by its own estimations for at least two years, the state said.  The company has not developed or implemented an effective plan to curb these losses, the state said.

The order requires Ocwen to implement a plan to transfer its loan servicing activities for Massachusetts consumer mortgage loans to state-approved servicers.  It also requires Ocwen to fund or place mortgage loan applications in process with other lenders at no loss to applicants, and to cease accepting new applications.

“Our office alone has received numerous calls over the years from homeowners regarding Ocwen’s bullying tactics,” said O’Brien. “If any homeowner in Essex County requires any deed or mortgage documents from our Registry in their fight against Ocwen, we stand ready to assist. Please contact us at 978-542-1700 or email us at southernessexcustomerservice@sec.state.ma.us.”

In response, Ocwen has filed for restraining orders and injunctions against Massachusetts and Illinois regulators arguing the cease and desist demand will harm consumers.

“Ocwen has a responsibility to its customers, shareholders, and employees to vigorously defend the company,” the firm said in a statement.

The allegations do not arise out of a recent assessment of Ocwen’s business activities, the company said. Instead, they come from a 2015 multi-state examination of the firm’s mortgage servicing business by the Multi-State Mortgage Committee, which covered Ocwen’s activities from January 2013 to February 2015.

The company said they remain committed to working with Massachusetts and the other state regulators to resolve any valid concerns, and has commenced those efforts.

“Ocwen’s ability to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure remain in their home through responsible loan modifications continues to positively impact communities across the country,” the company said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lowell man accused of swindling homeowners

By THOMAS GRILLO

BOSTON — A real estate broker who authorities say swindled Lynn homeowners has been indicted on additional charges, according to Attorney General Maura Healey.

Kevin Taing, 49, of Lowell, faces jail time in connection with stealing more than $464,000 through a larceny scheme targeting families facing foreclosure.

This is the second time Taing has been charged. Last fall, he was indicted on larceny charges and obtaining a signature by false pretenses that resulted in the theft of more than $165,000 from homeowners in Lynn and Lowell.

Lynn home sales down, prices up

Healey’s office began an investigation into the licensed real estate broker and principal of EFI, in 2014. Authorities allege Taing, who is of Cambodian descent and speaks Khmer, persuaded 11 Cambodian homeowners facing foreclosure to make payments to EFI rather than their mortgage lender.

Law enforcement officials further allege that Taing led these families to believe that by paying EFI they would reduce their monthly payments and keep their homes.

Instead, Taing allegedly used the cash to pay his personal expenses, credit card bills, restaurant and retail expenses.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Battle lines drawn in Lynn

The two sides supporting or opposing a March 14 debt exclusion vote tied to plans to build two middle schools have drawn up their forces and prepared to march.

Those opposed to the two-school proposal include angry residents facing eminent domain property takings near the proposed new Pickering Middle School site and other foes quick to jump on a soap box and vent their opposition.

Middle school construction supporters unveiled their efforts on Wednesday under the “Two Schools for Lynn” banner. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is obviously part of the school construction initiative and she boiled down the argument in favor of construction to a succinct sentence on Wednesday: “We are already squeezing students into every possible classroom space.”

Mayor and teachers in union for new schools

Both sides have a two-front battle to wage and not much time to carry the fight to Lynn’s voters. The election is five weeks away and voters will be asked when they step into the polling place to  approve building a new Pickering and a “West Lynn Middle School.” They will also be asked to shoulder a payment plan for the new schools that will land squarely on the shoulders of property taxpayers.

Lynn, like most municipalities, uses a borrowing method combining short-term and long-term bond financing to pay for schools. City budget makers look for favorable interest rates and then calculate how expensive projects like new schools can be mixed into the city’s bonded indebtedness.

As debts are paid off on prior projects dating back years, even decades, new debt for newer projects is calculated and mixed into the financing stream. The city budget includes a line item every year to cover interest costs associated with bonded indebtedness.

This formula represents the traditional method for using tax dollars to pay for city projects. The formula gets a new twist this year with voters approving or voting down a debt exclusion allowing the city to raise the money needed to pay for the $188 million school project.

An estimated 60 percent of the construction price tag is supposed to be reimbursed by the state. But initial calculations indicate a debt exclusion will cost the average homeowner and taxpayer $5,000 over the next 25 years or $200 a year in property tax payments directly dedicated to building the two middle schools.

Is the expense worth it? Only the taxpayer staring at a ballot on March 14 will be able to answer that question.

Debt exclusion opponents and supporters agree the city needs new schools. But opponents offer arguments ranging from potential water quality risks to increased traffic in arguing against building a new Pickering off Parkland Avenue. Missing from their argument is any objection to turning part of McManus Field into a school site.

Supporters face a daunting challenge in their bid to convince local voters to approve spending more tax dollars on schools. Plenty of people will say, “Hey, I don’t have kids. It doesn’t affect me.” Others will agree with opponents and declare, “I don’t want it in my neighborhood.”

Chances are good the March 14 vote will attract people opposed to building a new Pickering and people who really believe it makes sense for every taxpayer to dig deep into a pocket or purse for the extra money to build new schools.

The winners and losers only have to wait a few weeks to weigh in with their verdict.

Design Group 47 offers high end decor

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
From left, Deanne Healey, and Mary Bellavance watch as Jason Clairday, the showroom manager at Design Group 47, raises what was a flat counter moments ago with the push of a button during their tour of a model walk-in closet during the grand opening celebration.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

PEABODY — Design Group 47 had its grand opening last Friday, with the business boasting three showrooms and a warehouse under one roof.

The three showrooms on the retail level are Design Group 47, which is the main showroom, Studio Becker and WD Flooring Gallery. The warehouse in the basement of the building is World Depot.

Design Group 47, located at 47 Newbury St., is a full-service design center. The showrooms feature the latest styles and trends for kitchens and baths, hardwood flooring, stone and tile, according to company information.

Owner Peter Alfe said Design Group 47 is the showroom geared more towards homeowners. He said he can cater to any budget, design or style. Design Group 47 also caters to people interested in flipping homes and those who have a price-sensitive budget.  

Alfe also said that WD Flooring is the showroom for architects, designers and homeowners. Studio Becker is run by appointment only and consists of “extremely high end” products.

“We don’t show people something they can’t afford,” Alfe said.

Jason Clairday, showroom manager, said the main concept for Design Group 47 is a mini-design center for the North Shore. He said Design Group 47 is a blanket name for the various subdivisions the company has.

Clairday said Design Group 47 is the main hub and is designed to be a one-stop shop for people.

“Come in, make an appointment and we can design a kitchen for you,” Clairday said.

Clairday said the soft opening for Design Group 47 was in July, but “we wanted to wait for the grand opening after the design calendar started.” He said the ribbon cutting was pushed back until more displays came in for the showroom.

Alfe said the ribbon cutting on Friday was attended by Mayor Ted Bettencourt, along with the Peabody Chamber of Commerce. Design Group 47 was also celebrating becoming a member of the Peabody Chamber of Commerce.

Alfe said he started the first World Depot in 2004, located in Brazil, with the intention of producing hardwood flooring and providing it to the United States. He said after the economy crashed in 2008, the dollar went down and it wasn’t worth it to produce in Brazil anymore. He said World Depot had also been located in Westbrook, Maine.

“We realized it wasn’t feasible,” Alfe said. “We shut down the one in Maine as soon as this building was ready and decided not to do distribution anymore. We think it’s better to be a specialty company. It’s working out pretty well.”

Alfe said there was also initially a little showroom out of his home in Lynnfield. His designers would bring samples to builders, and bring the showroom to the job site. He said there is a WD Flooring affiliate on Harrison Avenue in Boston.

Having a nice presentation in the showrooms in Peabody is an important part of doing business, according to Alfe.

“Once people start looking at our own work within our own space, it gives them a comfort zone,” Alfe said.

Alfe said he is planning for Design Group 47 to continue growing. Next year, he is thinking about building a design center next door and showing off his design furniture.

Alfe said he was attracted to Peabody because he sees a lot of growth in the area. As a Lynnfield resident who live on the Peabody-Lynnfield line, he is also located close to Design Group 47.

“Peabody is a great city to do business in,” Alfe said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.