Norwich - Neighbors' complaints, a failed septic system and a potentially dangerous furnace problem brought city inspectors to West Thames Street Monday, where several illegal bedrooms had been created on the main floors and basements of a pair of small single-family houses.
A health inspector visiting the home at 718 West Thames St. alerted other city inspectors when he saw a smoking furnace in the basement and discovered makeshift bedrooms had been constructed there. Later Monday, a furnace repairman told inspectors the furnace had become clogged.
Owners Lin Feng Eldridge and Robert Eldridge, who own the twin ranch houses at 718 and 724 West Thames St. told inspectors they did the work about a year ago and admitted they had no permits.
The houses, both built in 1942, have nearly identical designs and layouts. The renovations also were similar in each house, where two bedrooms were created out of each living room and one bedroom in the dining room.
Part of the work involved new wiring and a new bathroom in the basement at 718 West Thames St., all of which would have to be reviewed by a licensed electrician and inspected for permits, Director of Inspections James Troeger told the owners.
Inspectors immediately ordered all beds removed from the basements, and that more smoke detectors be added upstairs. They told the owners to leave the basement window open at 718 West Thames to ensure sufficient airflow temporarily for the furnace.
By the end of the day - after the third inspection - inspectors allowed the houses to remain open and will send a letter of violation ordering immediate corrections.
Lin Feng Eldridge said only five or six people live in each house, but inspectors found evidence that 10 or more people may have been living in each house. She said no one lived in the basement at 718 West Thames St., where one bed was replaced by an exercise bike and another room had a game table. Upstairs, another bed that had been found just inside the front doorway in the morning also was gone.
Troeger said the owners would have to hire a licensed electrician to review all the wiring and electrical connections and apply for city permits. The owners also must hire a licensed furnace expert to determine the proper airflow for the furnace. The owners may have to tear down the basement rooms to reopen the basement.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Paulette Craig had received a neighbor's complaint about possible overcrowding at the two houses on Nov. 15.
She sent a letter of violation Nov. 19 and received a telephone response from the couple's attorney - former Norwich Corporation Counsel Konstant Morell - but no confirmation that no more than five unrelated adults were living in each house.
Sanitarian David Coughlin of the Uncas Health District was at the house inspecting the repaired septic system, which had failed Dec. 1, when he saw the basement smoke.
While the smoke quickly dissipated and workers were tending to the furnace, Coughlin saw the basement bedrooms and alerted other city inspectors, setting off the chain of inspections throughout Monday.