Residents evacuated on Jan. 3 after high carbon monoxide readings in their Melrose apartment building were allowed to return Tuesday after seeking relief in Malden District Court.
Judge Paul Yee made the decision after a lawyer for the property owner confirmed that heat and running water was working at the 36-unit Melrose Manor at 119 West Wyoming Ave.
“My concern is for safety,” Yee said, during a hearing in Malden District Court, adding that he would have entered an order for the landlord to pay for tenant accommodations until the building was deemed safe for occupancy.
Melrose city inspectors approved the building for occupancy on Tuesday. Nicholas Frye, a Boston lawyer, appeared to represent the 20 tenants who filled the court room, facing the prospect of homelessness.
“If the building is unsafe, they can’t be put out on the street in the middle of winter without any place to go,” said Frye.
On Jan. 3, amid a heavy snowstorm, residents awoke with no heat in the 86-year-old building. Later that night, a high carbon monoxide reading was detected in the building, forcing an evacuation, according to a posting on the Melrose Fire Department Facebook page.
Kenneth Leitner, a Boston lawyer who represented the property owner, said a new heating system has been installed, and plumbing has been fixed at the apartment building.
“The heating system went up in flames, and the Fire Department had everyone leave the building,” Leitner said. “We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do.”
He added that pipes froze in the extreme cold that followed the Jan. 2-3 snowstorm. Temperatures dropped into the single digits, according to the National Weather Service.
After the evacuation, some residents had stayed with family and friends, but most were placed in a Route 1 hotel.
Over last weekend, the city notified the displaced residents that the temporary accommodations would end on Monday.
“It’s the responsibility of the landlord, not the city, to provide temporary shelter for their tenants,” said Robert Van Campen, the city solicitor.
Van Campen estimated that more than 20 people stayed at the hotel. He could not estimate the cost to the city.
The city will try to recoup the cost from the landlord, he said.
“We will move to recover the city’s expenses, whether it is through negotiation or court proceedings,” Van Campen said.
Tenants said the lengthy evacuation was disruptive.
“It’s been a huge inconvenience,” said Samantha DeMarco, 27, who has lived at the building since last April. “I was living out of four bags, going between my car and the hotel and trying to get to work.”
There was no mention during the hearing of tenants’ comments that they had received voice mails from their landlord informing them that their leases were being terminated.
Leitner said no leases were terminated.
The property is owned by 119 West Wyoming Ave. LLC of Watertown, and is assessed at $3.4 million, city property records show.
The ownership group is managed by Donald J. Leone and Frank C. Pannesi, state records show.
Some tenants already have found new places to live.
“They told me to look for another apartment, so I did,” said Amanda Lukash, 33, who said she had just signed a one-year lease.
Others are unsure if they want to stay in the Melrose apartments for the long term.
“I don’t what I’m going to do next, “ said Marsha Faber, 60, a resident for 23 years.
After being evacuated Jan. 3, she stayed in Malden with Melrose Manor’s former longtime property owner, Nancy Sprague.
“I came to support my former tenants,” Sprague said, standing outside the courtroom. “I just feel bad about what’s happened.”
The judge confirmed that Melrose was not responsible for providing emergency shelter for the tenants.
“I’m surprised the city of Melrose took the bill,” Yee said. “It’s the [responsibility] of the landlord.”
The parties are due back in court March 19 for a review of the status of the property.