Some residents living in cars as Revere officials press landlord of condemned building

REVERE, Mass. — Some residents of a Revere high-rise that was condemned after a fire last month are living out of their cars, as one councilor wants the city to take the problem-plagued property by eminent domain.

Joseph Diaz, an Uber driver and a 14th-floor resident of Water’s Edge Apartments, waited for his next fare Monday afternoon in the car where he now lives.

Diaz’s wife and 12-year-old son are staying in Maryland with friends as he tries to pay the bills and figure out their future home. Diaz, who cannot afford a long-term hotel stay or apartment lease, said he has friends who are also forced to sleep in their cars.

“When this happened here, it changed my life, really, and broke my heart,” said Diaz. “My kid thinks it’s vacation. Go on vacation to Maryland. My kid is happy, but he doesn’t know.”

The fire, believed to be started by a cigarette at the Ocean Avenue apartment building, caused fire, smoke and water damage to several floors.

When inspectional services and health department workers returned to the building, they found tenants still living there without power and water, and they discovered mold and pre-existing fire code issues, among other problems, the city says.

At the time of the fire, a firefighter had been on watch at the building because a fire alarm wasn’t working, city officials said.

The city deemed the building “unfit for human habitation, displacing 82 residents.

Diaz and his neighbors have been trying to contact their leasing office and Connecticut-based landlord Carabetta Companies, but they have not been able to reach anyone.

“I try to call the office, but they don’t respond,” Diaz said. “I’m trying to go for information at city hall, but city hall says they don’t know anything, they need more information.”

Boston 25 News could not reach Carabetta Companies by phone or email.

Mayor Brian Arrigo blasted the company in a statement, demanding Carabetta bring the building up to code and claiming the company had not distributed the $750 required by state law to provide each tenant for relocation benefits.

“Despite legal action against them from the city and demand notices, the Carabetta family and their property management refuse to take any action to fix the issues of the building,” Arrigo said. “Sadly, the Carabetta family also refuses to acknowledge responsibility for their tenants or their tenant’s legal rights.  The City of Revere will not allow Carabetta to disregard their obligations to our city and their residents. We will continue to pursue every legal option available to hold them accountable for their inaction.”

City Councilor At Large George Rotondo told Boston 25 News he believes the city should try to take the property by eminent domain and use it for affordable housing, if Revere can afford it.

“It’s an abomination,” Rotondo said Monday. “I think the city should take it by eminent domain. There have been a plethora of issues regarding the poor upkeep of that property. Quite frankly, regardless of how much we fine this company, it feels to me that it’s not enough.”

Since 2004, the city has fined Carabetta Companies 70 times. The company owes the city more than $1 million, Arrigo said in the statement.

“The people there are suffering far too much, people have been displaced,” Rotondo said. “And to be quite honest with you, in my opinion, the owner really hasn’t done what they should be doing to help the tenants that are basically out on the street.”

The mayor’s office said it is “focused on resident relocation, food assistance and the wellbeing of those most vulnerable who have been displaced,” but said ultimately it is the duty of the landlord to figure out a long-term option.

“It is unsustainable for the City to continue to cover these costs, and it legally falls under the responsibility of the management company to provide housing,” Arrigo said.

Meanwhile, Diaz is trying to stay strong for his family, their future home uncertain.

“I don’t care if I don’t have food, but I need money to feed my family in Maryland. And I’m trying. I’m fighting,” said. Diaz. “Everybody needs help here.”

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