Published September 18. 2010 4:00AM Updated September 18. 2010 4:17AM
Norwich - City inspectors returned to two small single-family ranch houses on New London Turnpike recently and found several illegal bedrooms in the basement and main floor - a sign that overcrowding and illegal boarding houses are again plaguing the city as the economy continues to sag, officials said.
Two years earlier officials had ordered the same conditions to be removed and the house restored to its legal condition.
The houses at 718 and 724 W. Thames St. - identical in layout - near the Montville border are owned by Robert Eldridge and Lu Lin Feng of Uncasville. In December 2008, city inspectors were called to a smoky basement at 718 W. Thames St. and discovered the illegal boarding house and ordered the owners to remove the walls and electrical renovations that were installed without permits.
City Code Enforcement Officer George Gardner said Friday that he was called back to the house in late August on a complaint and found four bedrooms in the basement and five on the main floor in each house. Wall partitions and electrical wiring removed previously had been re-installed.
At a neighboring house, they also discovered an illegal apartment above a garage and ordered bedroom furniture removed and the room closed.
The rooms were rented to single adults, Gardner said, with no children present.
Gardner ordered the owners again to remove the wall partitions and wiring, this time ordering the wiring to be removed "all the way to the meters." He said previously, the owners might have simply rolled up the wires and left them tucked above the ceiling. Gardner plans to inspect the houses again next week.
Eldridge and Feng could not be reached at a Montville phone number on file in the city inspection office.
City officials said homes along walking routes to the region's two casinos - Route 32 and New London Turnpike near Montville and Route 2 near a large Foxwoods Resort Casino employee parking lot and bus stop - are likely areas to find overcrowded conditions.
With city budget cuts in recent years, inspector positions have been eliminated. Even before recent budget cuts, the city eliminated a routine rental inspection program that would ensure city housing inspectors would get a regular look at apartment buildings with three or more apartments.
Peter Davis, director of planning and development, however, said even the rental inspections program wouldn't help catch problems like those on West Thames Street. The inspections did not cover single-family or two-family homes. Inspectors only visit those homes based on complaints either from tenants, neighbors or other agencies. Uncas Health District alerted the city inspections office in 2008 after discovering the smoky basement while inspecting the house's overtaxed septic system.
Davis said after final inspections to ensure that partitions and wiring were removed, there is no legal provision for revisiting the homes "without cause" to see if the wall partitions have been re-installed.