Stowe family pleads with town to hold landlord accountable

While many are turning up the thermostat this week, one Stowe family doesn’t have the option.
Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 11:46 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2022 at 6:10 AM EST
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - While many are turning up the thermostat this week, one Stowe family doesn’t have the option.

Sarah and Justin Sliwka say they haven’t had a working furnace since October. They tell WCAX News their landlord, town select board member Willie Noyes, has been aware of the problem for quite some time.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare,” the Sliwkas exclaimed.

They said they were aware of furnace problems starting last winter. In August, the problem was written up in a safety report. Then in October, the furnace stopped working entirely.

It’s now January and we’re heading into a record cold week.

Noyes said he’s tried to fix the furnace, but the family is being uncooperative.

“I didn’t want anyone getting hurt or anything to happen to those people,” Noyes explained during Monday’s select board meeting. “The furnace was delivered on the [December] 18th. Six or seven days later we did the outside pipework and they didn’t vacate the house, so nil.”

Noyes said he wanted the Sliwkas to vacate since the new furnace is propane. He believes the installation would pose a safety risk.

In the meantime, the Sliwkas are using space heaters, a known fire risk, to stay warm. They also say they’ve had two house fires as a result of faulty electrical outlets.

“This weekend one of the space heaters was plugged in and that was what caught fire,” Sarah said. “So we actually lost use of one of those space heaters.”

Even with the space heaters, the home remains unreasonably cold. Vermont Department of Health code says rental units need to be over 65 degrees if it’s colder than 55 degrees outside.

“We keep this little thermometer right here,” Sarah said while picking up a thermostat off their dining room table. “I don’t know if you can see it. It’s 59.7 degrees in here.”

Mary Ellen Griffin, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, said the law isn’t always clear when it comes to heating issues.

“The statute just says that the landlord has to make repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Often inspectors will set deadlines, but there’s not a firm deadline in the statute,” Griffin explained.

As a tenant there are options.

“The tenant should first call the town health officer or the Department of Fire Safety and they’ll issue a written report,” Griffin said. “That starts the clock to make reasonable repairs. Usually, the inspector can persuade the landlord to make repairs, but if they don’t, the inspector can issue fines.”

In the meantime, the Sliwkas are doing their best to keep themselves and their four children safe.

“My daughter, all she does is hang out in front of the heater, she doesn’t dance around or play, she just sits in front of the heater because it’s so cold,” Justin said.

The Board of Health, which is also the Selectboard, is giving Noyes until Saturday to fix the issues on the property. This meeting was not public, although no reason has been given as to why.

Noyes did reach out to us after this story aired saying the Sliwkas have been problematic tenants and accused them of telling half the truth. He declined to speak to Channel 3 about the issue further.

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