‘I don’t want to live anywhere else’: Hatfield man fights to stay in run-down home

  • George Emeny talks about the paintings in his home that he does not want to leave even after the Hatfield Board of Health recently declared his home as being "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny holds the sign the Hatfield Board of Health posted on his home declaring it "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny stands in his home in Hatfield which the Board of Health has recently declared as being "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny talks about how he does want to leave his home of 40 years even after the Hatfield Board of Health declared his home as being "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny stands by the kitchen of his home in Hatfield, which is under a Board of Health condemnation order. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny as his home in Hatfield which the Board of Health has recently declared as being "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny stands by his car at his home in Hatfield, which he now sleeps in after the Board of Health declared his home “unfit for human habitation.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny at his home in Hatfield that the Hatfield Board of Health recently declared as being "unfit for human habitation." Emeny does not want to leave but would like to repair what is needed for him to stay. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny stands in his home in Hatfield which the Board of Health has recently declared as being "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Emeny holds the sign the Hatfield Board of Health recently posted on his home declaring it as being "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Emeny says one of the reasons he bought the home in 1978 was that it was more like a barn than a house.

  • George Emeny stands by his car outside his home in Hatfield which he now sleeps in after the Board of Health declared his home, "unfit for human habitation." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2021 6:35:54 PM

HATFIELD — After warming up his car each night, George Emeny folds down the front seat and, accompanied by his dog CC and his cat Pumpkin, gets into a sleeping bag that will keep him comfortable even at 60 degrees below zero.

For nearly two months, despite the occasional snow, howling winds and cold temperatures of late winter, Emeny, 86, has made getting into his 2003 Mercury Sable LS his bedtime routine, a necessity after receiving an order condemning his 320 West St. home from the town’s Board of Health and Health Agent Charles Kaniecki.

“These premises unfit for human habitation” read the signs, dated Jan. 12, that are posted on the door and sides of the weather-beaten residence, surrounded by a wooden fence and numerous pieces of equipment in the yard and on the driveway.

“I’d like to live and work in my house,” Emeny said on Friday from inside his home, where some warmth from the cold and blustery day is provided by a small stove in the crowded kitchen. Emeny’s belongings are everywhere — the floors, tables and counters — along with a full bowl of dog food for CC.

But with a musty smell and even broken pieces of glass lining the floor, it’s a challenge to navigate between the rooms, including one crammed with his artwork.

“I don’t have any children — there is no other person being abused by having to live here,” Emeny said.

On Monday, a Housing Court hearing before Judge Jonathan Kane resumes that could determine whether Emeny is able to get back to living in the home, and under what conditions.

Emeny said the judge has so far allowed him to be indoors during the daylight hours. That means he can be in the small living room to paint nautical scenes and racing yachts for his Clippers Ltd. artwork and framing business.

“I can be in here to work, but I can’t be in here to sleep,” Emeny said.

A Korean War-era veteran who flew airplanes in the U.S. Navy, Emeny grew up in Peekskill, New York, and taught science for 30 years at the Forest Park School in Springfield. He came to the Pioneer Valley as a civilian flight instructor at the former Pilgrim Airport on the Hatfield-Whately town line, and he was still teaching students how to fly at Northampton Airport until the pandemic hit.

Kaniecki said he couldn’t get into the details of what prompted the investigation of Emeny’s property due to the pending litigation, but that the signs posted speak for themselves.

The final order by the Board of Health was signed by Chairman Robert Osley on Feb. 2. It outlines a number of concerns that need to be addressed before Emeny can stay at the property.

Those that are considered to endanger health and safety include the existing electric and plumbing facilities, obstructed exits, accumulation of garbage attracting rodents and other pests, and no smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Emeny could be subject to fines of $10 to $500 each day should he be in violation of the order, and he has been advised that the egregious violations need to be corrected by May 31.

Trant Campbell, a Ludlow attorney who represents Emeny, declined to comment on the ongoing case.

Emeny contends that the actions stem from a longstanding hostility toward him, and that being ordered to make repairs to electric and plumbing doesn’t make sense when they are in good working order and have been installed by licensed workers. The basement and foundation were both repaired with the help of a contractor, and the attached garage was built only a few years ago.

Asked if it might be better to find another place to call home, with more modern amenities, Emeny was clear about his views. “I don’t want to live anywhere else,” he said.

Even if assistance were available from the town, Emeny said he doesn’t need it.

“Everybody I’ve showed it to says this is an old house and you don’t need all that stuff,” Emeny said of the potential improvements.

For instance, he said the electric heating elements function but aren’t effective due to the lack of insulation that causes wind to cut through the building. This is a simple fix, he said.

“That’s the next thing I’m going to do. I’m going to insulate, insulate, insulate,” Emeny said.

He adds that part of the appeal of the home when he bought it in 1978 was that it was more like a barn than a house.

Ellen Bokina, who previously served on the town’s health board, said the actions taken so far by the town aren’t appropriate for the situation, and that remedies are needed that are less forceful. She expressed concern that Emeny’s sleeping in his vehicle is not safe.

“If he dies in his car, who’s responsible?” Bokina said.

Emeny said he isn’t worried about dying from exposure, but rather from the anxiety coming from not being able to live in his home.

“The only thing that bothers me is that stress kills, and the thought of being evicted from this house gives me a lot of stress,” Emeny said. “I can tell I now have a lot of stress.”




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