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Brothers rip town over damage to apartments:
Duo says they would have bought Framingham buildings
before burst pipes ruined several units
Thursday, March 13, 2003
D. Craig MacCormack Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- One of two brothers hoping to buy a pair of McLaughlin Street apartment buildings this week accused town officials of "neglect and mismanagement" for not shutting off the water in the long-vacant units.

John Mula, who teamed with his brother Sal to offer owner Harold Webber $500,000 for the two buildings, said the town's insistence on collecting more than $200,000 in back taxes is holding up the deal.

Further complicating matters, said John Mula, was an incident in January when several of the apartments in each building were ruined when water pipes froze and burst during a cold spell.

"The town let the property get ruined," he said.  "We still want to buy the properties, but the tax burden is such that it's not worth it for Webber to sell it to us.

"The town created a loss for everybody because of their neglect and mismanagement.  We were going to pay all the money that was owed to them two years ago, but they evicted everybody and then ruined the property," he said.

The extensive water damage shouldn't have any effect on two court cases involving the buildings, said Town Manager George King.  He described the water damage as "significant" in an earlier interview.

The damage likely was the result of no one telling the town Water Department to turn off the water in the boarded-up homes.

The town repossessed 4 and 6 McLaughlin St. about a year and a half ago because Webber owed $200,000 in back taxes, King said.  The status of the homes is in the hands of bankruptcy and land courts, he said.

King expects the properties -- each assessed at $178,400 -- eventually will be turned over to a third party, he said, and the town will recoup some or all of the delinquent tax money.  The new owner would have to pay for all repairs.

"The settlement agreement we have in place with (Webber) allows for the disposal of the properties to a third party," said King.  "As of now, we have the same agreement in place."

The Mula brothers offered Webber $250,000 for each building, John said.  He estimated the repairs to each building at at least $100,000.  Sal is a full-time real estate agent in Marlborough and John is a barber with realty experience.

"That's a low-ball figure," he said.  "We can't afford to spend that kind of money."

The overdue taxes date back seven or eight years, King said.  No town employees were disciplined over the burst pipes, he said.

The Mulas negotiated the selling price in February 2001, said John Mula, and were set to pass papers on the properties in May 2001.  Four days before they were to acquire the buildings, they were told the properties had liens.

The brothers were rebuffed in their efforts to acquire the properties, said John Mula.

"We still wanted to go through with the deal, but the town wanted to take (Webber) to court," he said.  The first lawsuit was filed later that summer in bankruptcy court.

Framingham lost that case, evicted all the tenants and shut off the gas and electricity, but didn't lock the doors for several months, said Mula.

Webber got the properties back in October 2002, he said, and the Mulas again wanted to buy them.  But, he said, "the town started dragging their feet again."

Mula asked town officials to winterize the buildings when he saw a steady stream of water flowing from the faucets, but that never happened, he said.  That neglect led to the burst pipes, he said.

"It should have been taken care of if they expected to get money for it," said John Mula.  "The town is in such dire straits as it is.  They could have had this wrapped up two years ago."

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