The residents of 401 Harris Street, including co-owner James Barrett, have until Oct. 1 to repair the home or the City and Borough of Juneau will condemn the building, according to a CBJ letter sent to the owners Wednesday.
CBJ Code Compliance Officer Nate Watts issued the letter, writing that the property has “numerous and severe health and safety violations” that were discovered during an inspection of the building that took place Aug. 27. Sitka Superior Court Judge Jude Pate ordered the inspection during an Aug. 21 hearing, as he was looking to learn more about the state of the house.
The order came after Kathleen Barrett — James’ mother and co-owner of the house — began pursuing a partition, which would give her control of the property. The main question Pate has in this case, he said at the Aug. 21 hearing, is whether allowing James to live in the home would cause “irreparable harm” to Kathleen. Part of approving a partition, Pate explained, is finding that one of the owners would suffer irreparable harm.
Dave d’Amato has Kathleen’s power of attorney, meaning he can make legal decisions for her. d’Amato explained at the Aug. 21 hearing that Kathleen could suffer “irreparable harm” if the city seizes the property and Kathleen has to go through an expensive legal battle with the city.
James was present and represented himself at Thursday’s hearing, and Pate said he would give James time to file motions and develop a defense. Pate scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. next Thursday, giving James a week to prepare.
“At this point, I don’t see much of a defense for partition,” Pate said to James in court. “I see a high likelihood of success by your mother on a partition action, whether it’s a physical partition or a partition by sale.”
d’Amato has said repeatedly that Kathleen’s desire is to find James a new place to live in town and sell the 401 Harris property. d’Amato was present by telephone Thursday and said James’ sister Maureen had found a condo elsewhere in Juneau that could accommodate him.
The city’s letter stated that there are a few main repairs that James has to make, including installing alarms and securing the nearby shed so people can’t access it. The letter also suggests that James get in touch with electrical, plumbing and mechanical administrators to evaluate the extent of the damage and get a building permit to repair the problems.
In an interview after the hearing, James said he wasn’t surprised by the fact that his mother is seeking to get him out of the house they own together. He said he believes the CBJ is putting pressure on Kathleen and d’Amato to go through with this.
CBJ’s role in the case
In early August, Kathleen and the CBJ reached an agreement that stipulated that Kathleen would repay the city the cost of demolishing the Gastineau Apartments. The apartments, which were owned by the Barretts, fell into disrepair and caught fire twice before the city demolished the buildings in the name of public safety.
According to the agreement, one of the stipulations is for Kathleen to continue prosecuting this case “with a view to the eviction of James Barrett.” City Attorney Robert Palmer pointed out that Kathleen was pursuing this partition prior to the settlement of the Gastineau Apartments case. Palmer said via email that there is a mutual interest to reduce the number of incidents that are occurring at the 401 Harris property.
“In the settlement negotiations on the Gastineau Apartment case, the CBJ and Ms. Barrett both recognized that 401 Harris Street had become a problem property,” Palmer said, “and both parties acknowledged that Ms. Barrett was in a unique position to fix it because she has an ownership interest in the property.”
Palmer also said the complaints of the neighbors in the area further convinced the CBJ to put in a stipulation about the 401 Harris property. At a neighborhood meeting this summer, Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer said there have been more than 400 calls to police in the past two years about that area.
Neighbors have complained about late-night traffic, suspected drug use and even suspected prostitution at the property. James said the rumors about what goes on at his house have gotten out of control.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” James said. “The things that have been said, I won’t repeat some of the rumors I’ve heard, but they’ve been absolutely beyond belief.”
James spoke at length in court, saying the house has fallen into disrepair mostly because of Mark “Margo” Brown, a man who stayed at the house for a while. James said Brown and his friends were the main cause of the noise and traffic that neighbors have complained about. Brown has moved out, James said, and James and his friends have worked to refurbish the property.
James said he has had health problems for a long time, citing a problem with his hepatic system (which directs blood from parts of the gastrointestinal tract to the liver). He also said it was intimidating to try to force so many people out of his house.
“We’re working on getting everything back to normal,” James said in the interview. “Everything got out of control and I wasn’t really in a position to fix it.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.