A father and his young daughter moved out of a ramshackle Burlington apartment Wednesday, and a landlord-tenant dispute that has dragged on for years — even reaching the Vermont Supreme Court — finally came to a close.
The saga began in 2005, when Kevin Corcoran (pictured) and his 10-year-old daughter Rebecca rented a two-bedroom apartment at 68 Intervale Ave. in the city's Old North End. The rent was $500 a month. Corcoran, whose sole source of income is a monthly SSI check due to disability, paid $17 a month. The remaining $483 was subsidized by social services.
Corcoran's landlord, John Malcovsky, lives right around the corner on Crombie Street. Corcoran can see his landlord's house from his kitchen window.
Some time later, Corcoran began withholding his $17 a month in rent because, he says, of problems with the apartment that weren't getting fixed: a leaky toilet, exposed insulation around unfinished windows, and a leaky porch. Corcoran says rain storms that came through the leaky roof destroyed personal items he had stored on the porch, including his daughter's Barbie collection, family photo albums and 142 Beanie Babies.
"Every goddamn thing we had got ruined," Corcoran said Wednesday.
City code inspectors visited the apartment on numerous occasions and found violations, but found the dwelling met minimum standards for being "habitable."
In June 2009, the landlord moved to evict Corcoran for unpaid rent and utilities. The case went to an evidentiary hearing at Chittenden County Superior Court, and the judge sided with the landlord, awarding Malcovsky $2571 in damages and ordering Corcoran to vacate the premises.
Unable to afford a lawyer, Corcoran appealed the ruling "pro se" to the Vermont Supreme Court. On December 8, the court decided for the landlord — meaning Corcoran had to move out. The decision didn't address the merits of Corcoran's case — whether he was justified in withholding rent until promised repairs were made. Malcovsky won on a technicality; because the court didn't have a transcript of the 2009 evidentiary hearing (Corcoran says he couldn't afford the $500 cost), the supremes couldn't decide if the trial court was wrong to side with the landlord.
"The absence of a record of the proceedings or [sic] any record citations renders it impossible to address the claims," wrote a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court.
Corcoran was visibly upset by the whole affair Wednesday. "Six years, and this is what we get: A kick in the fucking head and my kid gets kicked out on the street," he said.
A message left for Malcovsky wasn't immediately returned on Wednesday and no one answered at his home.
Both units at 68 Intervale are undergoing renovations. When Seven Days visited Corcoran last August, we found the units in rough shape. Windows in the downstairs apartment (not Corcoran's) were unfinished and had exposed insulation (pictured). Ceiling tiles were stained brown and sagging (pictured below), apparently, from Corcoran's toilet above, which he says had leaked for some time.
Burlington Code Enforcement Director Bill Ward admitted the apartments had problems but said they didn't rise to the level of being a health or safety hazard. The bottom line: just because an apartment is dumpy doesn't mean it's uninhabitable.
Ward was able to help Corcoran out in another way, though — one that got him temporary assistance money sooner that he otherwise would have. Corcoran couldn't get assistance to pay for a hotel until he was out of the apartment, making it hard to make accommodations, unless the unit was deemed uninhabitable.
Last month, Ward inspected the apartment personally and found a bedroom window covered with a thick wool blanket to keep the cold out. Ward deemed that a fire hazard and and took the blanket down. When Ward returned the next day, that drafty bedroom was so cold (59 degrees, even though the heater was on full blast two rooms away) that he declared it uninhabitable, and gave Corcoran a letter to that effect, so he could get assistance immediately.
Once the apartment is empty, Ward said code enforcement will inspect it anew to make sure everything is up to snuff before new renters move in.
In the long term, Corcoran doesn't know what he's going to do. But on Wednesday, he was busy cleaning the apartment in preparation for the walk-through.
"I don't leave a place dirty," he said.