NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Real estate listings for condos in the Canterbury Village complex at 79 Ivan St. promise a simple but ideal home: professionally managed, “well-maintained” units in a quiet neighborhood, with laundry, plenty of parking, and utilities included in the below-market price.
But new and long-time residents told the Globe that the condominiums have long been plagued by maintenance problems that go unaddressed. Reports range from broken bathroom fans and mold to persistent bug infestations and sewage seeping into living spaces.
The problems at Canterbury Village reached a crisis point on Monday, when town officials condemned the property and gave nearly 80 residents just 24 hours to vacate their condos. In addition to the longstanding maintenance issues, fire department officials cited open construction areas and the lack of a working fire alarm system as part of what they called “deplorable” and “unsafe” conditions.
On Thursday, the Narragansett Bay Commission notified residents that the Canterbury Village complex owed $8,421.05 in unpaid sewer bills; if the bill does not get paid, water service could be shut off to the entire complex, including buildings that had not been condemned and still had people living in them.
Landlords and residents who own their units pay monthly fees to the Canterbury Village Condominium Association. The condo association’s three-person board is supposed to use the money to pay for utilities, repairs, and maintenance for the complex. That includes the water and heating bills.
But while Canterbury Village’s property management company, Vista Management, told residents that the bill was paid on Friday, Representative Arthur J. Corvese, a North Providence Democrat, told the Globe on Monday that only a partial payment had been made.
“The owners paid somewhere around $2,000 plus on that bill,” stated Corvese, who said he was assured by the Narragansett Bay Commission Board of Commissioners Chairman Vincent Mesolella that residents will not have their utilities shut off. “But there are still $5,000-plus that’s owed.”
Mayor Charles A. Lombardi said Vista Management — a subsidiary of Plainville, Mass.-based Franklin Square Management — has been “uncooperative” in remediation efforts since pipes burst in the building in February. The town has brought the condo association to municipal court, but proceedings have been repeatedly delayed, he said.
“The people who were responsible for straightening this out … they should be arrested,” said Lombardi.
Canterbury Village’s condo association board only has three members. Vincent Borelli, the vice chair, owns two units that he rents out to tenants. The other two members are Vista Management and Franklin Square Management President Laurence Levey and his wife, Jamie Levey.
“We should have been pumping money into the buildings,” said Borelli. He told the Globe he reluctantly joined the board a decade ago, but they haven’t held a meeting since. According to the condominium’s bylaws, which were obtained by the Globe, the association is supposed to meet on the second Tuesday of February of each year.
“It wasn’t like being on a real board. It wasn’t active,” he said, noting that he has never met or spoken to Jamie Levey. “There were no meetings.”
“With three of us, you only need two for a quorum,” said Borelli. “Before this year, I hardly spoke to [Laurence Levey]. I don’t often get my calls answered. I was pretty much a figurehead on the board.”
On Friday, he said, he hired an attorney and is sending Levey a formal resignation letter.
“Morally, it’s wrong. Ethically, it’s wrong. It’s a total conflict of interest” for the executives of the property’s management company to also control the condo association, said John Chelo, who owns two units at Canterbury Village, called the condo association “illegitimate.”
Vista Management did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the Globe. Lorraine Adams, the property manager in Vista’s North Providence office, who is also the main contact for residents and landlords at Canterbury Village, did not respond to multiple phone calls or text messages sent by the Globe to her office or cell phone. Levey and representatives from Franklin Square Management also did not respond to requests for comment.
On Friday, Borelli said Vista had an architect, project manager, and contractor “lined up,” and that the association “is hoping to have contracts signed Monday or early next week.” He declined to name any of the companies until contracts were signed.
Residents, some of whom own their condos, told the Globe that the problems have been going on for decades.
Chelo purchased his units in 2012 and 2013 as investment properties. “I’ve been fighting with Vista ever since,” he said. “They are negligent. They are criminals.”
Since moving to the property five years ago, Iga Kurowska, a condo owner who works in financial services, told the Globe that it’s been difficult to communicate with the property management company for any reason, including maintenance issues. “We’ve been told we’re still waiting on parts ‘on order’ for a speaker intercom that broke when I moved in,” she said.
Rachel Fuller moved into a two-bedroom basement apartment at Canterbury with her husband in September 2011. By 2015, she said, flooding and leaks were regular occurrences; maintenance workers would patch things up but not fix them, she said. The apartment’s exterior walls were “cracking and falling apart,” she said. The kitchen cupboards were “completely rotted,” and mold issues were “endless.”
“We were constantly calling Vista to request repairs,” said Fuller, who works in operations at Kent Hospital in Warwick and has been battling bladder cancer for seven years. “They only ever put a Band-Aid on the situation. Nothing was actually fixed.” She never met or even knew her landlord, she said. She paid their $835 monthly rent in cash at Vista’s office on Mineral Spring Avenue, and was given a handwritten paper receipt from Matlaw Corporation, a holding company. According to corporate records filed with the state’s secretary of state’s office, its president is Laurence Levey.
“We couldn’t afford to leave. We put up with a lot because we didn’t have another choice,” she said. “I feel like we were taken advantage of, and that frustrates me.”
On Sept. 30, Fuller and her husband moved out of Canterbury Village and into a smaller, second floor apartment nearby. It’s much more expensive — $1,475 monthly — but she said she “finally feels safe.”
Fuller is one of a handful of current and former residents who are considering legal action against Vista’s executives. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha spokesman Brian Hodge confirmed to the Globe Wednesday night that the office is investigating the matter with the North Providence Police Department.
Keith O’Brien, a retired bus driver, has owned three units at Canterbury for about 25 years. He moved into one of his ground-level, one-bedroom units seven months ago, and is one of the few landlords who also live in the complex. He pays more than $800 in monthly condo association fees for his three units and said even after he and Borelli threatened to take legal action, Vista has not addressed an ongoing issue with the sewer pipe that has clogged drains and overflowed into other units’ bedrooms.
After the work is done to remediate safety hazards and other issues, Borelli, the condo association board member, said he plans on “getting out of the condo business” and selling his two units.
“I can’t be a minority partner in this,” he said. “I’m getting older, and I’m overwhelmed. I’m done.”
It’s unclear how the condo association is spending the money they receive from condo owners. Financial documents obtained by a condo owner and shared with the Globe show the Canterbury Village Condominium Association is projected to receive $226,332 in income from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 of this year. The documents also show projected itemized expenses for the year equal to the exact same amount — $226,332 — but there are no vendor names or payment dates included.
“There’s a lot of money flowing in and out of that place, and yet the guy at the top doesn’t want to pay a dime,” said O’Brien. “Where is our money going? I want to know.”
This story has been updated with information from the R.I. Attorney General’s office.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that John Chelo had ties to a local restaurant group.