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Chang family housing cited for code violations

This home at 90 Mount Warner Road in Hadley was recently cited for state sanitary, building and fire code violations. It is owned by the Chang Family Trust.

This home at 90 Mount Warner Road in Hadley was recently cited for state sanitary, building and fire code violations. It is owned by the Chang Family Trust. Purchase photo reprints »

Last week, local health officials issued 30-day corrective action orders for properties at 60 Main St. and 27 Chesterfield Drive in Amherst, as well as 90 Mount Warner Road in Hadley, where an unknown number of tenants live.

The cited conditions of the three properties, one of them a five-unit apartment complex above Amherst Chinese Food restaurant, also owned by the Chang family, were not as severe as those found in the Franklin County properties that led to condemnation orders last month.

However, local and state health, building and fire officials found a number of housing code violations that must be addressed by late October, inspection records show.

“They are fairly simple types of violations, the kinds of things we might run into frequently,” said Amherst Health Director Julie Federman, who conducted a joint inspection of the Amherst properties with state officials last week. “They need to be corrected to bring the properties up to code.”

Sidney Chang, who manages the family’s bean sprout farm operations with Chang & Son Enterprises Inc. on River Road in Whately, was on hand for the inspections. He is the son of Rose C. and Tso-Cheng Chang, trustees of the Chang Family Trust.

The family could not be reached for comment, but their Amherst attorney, Lawrence Farber, who is representing the Chang family in a state housing court case, said none of the violations found was serious.

“Any place that gets inspected is going to have some problems,” Farber said. “We are planning on repairing them within the period of time.”

The violations cited at the Amherst and Hadley properties included damaged walls and ceilings, temporary wiring, missing light fixtures and hand railings and inadequate smoke detector systems, among other issues. The Hadley property on Mount Warner Road, which abuts farmland owned by the Chang family, also lacked a second exit and had interior structural work done without permits, according to a report by Hadley Building Commissioner Timothy Neyhart.

“We asked them to rebuild the rear deck because it was in bad shape,” Neyhart said. “There wasn’t a true rear second means of egress.”

The latest round of inspections comes in the midst of a housing court case brought by the state Department of Public Health against the Chang Family Trust. The court action was prompted by earlier inspections of two homes that housed a combined 21 people at 23 Sugarloaf St. in Deerfield and 299 River Road in Whately, the latter of which abuts the farm known as Chang & Son Enterprises.

Both properties were condemned after inspectors found what appeared to be long-standing health, sanitary and fire code violations, from rotted floors and a collapsing roof and ceilings to unsafe electrical systems and a lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

The displaced tenants included 14 people, including seven children, who lived in the two-story Deerfield home. They have since been put up in area apartments and a hotel by the Chang family under a court order. The Deerfield home is slated for demolition, though lawyers working on behalf of many of the farmworkers say the Whately home could be brought up to code.

“At this point, what we’re really focusing on is getting information from the tenants,” said Jennifer Dieringer, an attorney with Community Legal Aid, which is assisting many of the displaced farmworkers.

“It is clear that they have landlord-tenant rights, that they have a right to live in apartments that meet state sanitary requirements,” she said. “We don’t know whether they’ve signed leases, how many people were living in each unit, or how much they were paying for rent.”

Local and state health officials interviewed said they could not confirm whether tenants living in the three additional properties cited in Hadley and Amherst are farmworkers employed by Chang & Son Enterprises Inc.

Legal advocates said their goal is to ensure that tenants living in all the properties are housed in safe conditions and understand their rights as tenants, which was not the case only a few weeks ago.

“We are now able to help them understand what’s happening and involve them in the process and update them on what’s happening in the case,” Dieringer said.

Farber said it is the Chang family’s long-term intention to no longer provide housing for its employees.

“It is clearly something outside the scope of their expertise,” Farber said. “Their expertise is being farmers and running a restaurant and not being housing specialists.”

As the housing case plays out in state court, another federal case is pending against Chang & Son Enterprises. The U.S. Labor Department, which had a representative at the last housing court hearing, filed a lawsuit against the company earlier this year alleging the vegetable farm violated wage laws.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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