ADAMS -- The Board of Health (BOH) is ordering the Dug-Out Motel vacated following town investigations that found "disturbing" conditions there, and has enlisted local housing authorities to help find new homes for those who will be displaced.
Issued Nov. 13, the board's 45-day vacate order on the 99 Howland Ave. business speaks to an alleged ownership-management disconnect that's seen illegal conditions become motel policy.
In September and again this month, various municipal officials walked through each of the motel's 15 rooms. They reported their findings at a BOH meeting Wednesday, when the order was issued.
These included overcrowding -- in the worst case, a family of eight people living in a single, 213-square-foot space. fire hazards like hot plates, were reportedly allowed by management despite their illegality in such lodgings. The building had no carbon monoxide detectors and a potential rodent infestation, suspected after a recent complaint filed with the Department of Families and Children by a local teacher, which claimed that a student living at the motel had been bitten by rats. The complaint has yet to be substantiated, BOH officials said at Wednesday's meeting.
The November inspection also found every room occupied by long-term tenants, which is illegal by state law for small living spaces.
Code Enforcement Officer Scott Koczela said at Wednesday's meeting that "instead of a motel, [the Dug-Out is operating] as a rooming house" and thus falls under the jurisdiction of health and sanitary codes.
Accommodations at the Dug-Out fall far short of these codes.
They dictate that a two-person space can be 250 square feet at minimum, and require such accommodations as a sink and space for a stove -- none of which are met by the motel. The ownership must either renovate to meet these standards and change its zoning license or limit tenants to 30 days, Koczela said. According to Koczela, the longest tenants have now remained for up to three years. He said Thursday a total number of people living at the motel was not available.
And, in addition to paying $650 to $800 monthly bills, some tenants have been hit with fees like a $90 charge for a former fire response that was initiated.
"Our fire department doesn't charge," Koczela said Thursday.
Concerned by the reports, particularly overcrowded families, BOH Administrative Assistant Susan Foster questioned Koczela at Wednesday's meeting.
"Since we're concerned with the health and welfare of all people in this town," Foster said, "what obligations do we have to do something about the family with six children that are living [in a single room] there?"
Koczela said the Board of Health has partnered with Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority -- particularly its Tenancy Preservation Project (TPP) -- to find housing for all individuals and families who will be displaced.
Next Thursday, BOH and TPP officials plan to meet at a local school, likely C.T. Plunkett Elementary School, for a housing provider meeting, after which each of the motel's tenants will be bussed to the school for a housing needs assessment. Koczela said that already, Brayton Hill Apartments are being eyed and the Adams Housing Authority has been made aware of the circumstance.
"We're going to continue to work through this until everyone is safely housed," he said Thursday.
Koczela also stressed that tenants could stay on longer than the 45-day limit if necessary, saying "[no one] is going out on the street" and shelters would not be considered.
A check of BOH records Thursday found that the motel's ownership and management -- the Sharma family and Shoba, Inc., respectively -- had acknowledged the board's order in writing.
According to Koczela, the ownership claimed to be "totally unaware" of conditions at the Dug-Out Motel. Massachusetts Corporations Division lists Shoba Inc., as a domestic profit corporation organized in the commonwealth in 1994. Vivek Sharma is listed as president of the corporation. Efforts to reach the management for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
To reach Phil Demers, email