ROCKLAND — The city code enforcement office condemned a Purchase Street house on Feb. 5, the most recent in a series across the community.

Seven buildings have been condemned since the start of 2023. The condemnation order bars the houses from being occupied by anyone until safety issues are addressed.

City Planner Rhett Lamb said the city is not going around looking for places to condemn. Instead, the actions come after the city has received complaints, often from neighbors about unsafe living conditions.

Fire Chief Christopher Whytock agreed.

“To say the living conditions are deplorable is an understatement,” the fire chief said.

He said one of the last things the city wants to do is force someone out of a house but the last thing would be to allow someone to live in unsafe conditions that could lead to a tragedy.


In the case of the Purchase Street house, code officer Wyatt Philbrook said the home had no heating system, no hot water because the hot water heater had been removed, and significant electrical issues.

The Purchase house is owned by the heirs of Wilma Copeland. In September, the probate court ordered that a special administrator be appointed to represent the interest of the estate in a foreclosure proceeding brought in November 2021 by the Bank of New York Mellon Trust. That foreclosure case remains pending in the District Court in Knox County.

This house at 6 Purchase St. was the latest to be condemned in Rockland. Stephen Betts/The Courier-Gazette

Lamb, the planner, said the foreclosure process is frustrating for communities since the mortgage holders will take no responsibility of managing the properties during the process.

The fire chief pointed out that a house on Rankin Street has been abandoned for years but the mortgage holder sends someone to mow the lawns a few times each summer but nothing else.

This is the seventh house condemned in the past 14 months by Rockland for serious life-safety issues.

In one instance, the house was powered by a generator with a series of extension cords connected to appliances. In another, the basement was filled with sewage.


The condemnation order does not require the buildings to be torn down but they must have repairs made before anyone can live in them.

In most of the cases of houses being condemned the houses had been vacated before the condemnation. Often, the people who had been living in the houses did not have permission of the owners to be there.

At times, tenants will leave but allow other people in the houses and those people allow other people to live there without the owner knowing.

The city officials point out that they work with property owners and with anyone living in any of the residences.

“We work hard to find alternatives for them,” Philbrook said.

City officials refer them to grant programs for home repairs or refer them to state agencies for services. The code officer said when someone is being displaced, he will contact landlords and see if there any openings and then will pass that information on to the residents.

The code officer said there has been an increase in condemnations because an assistant officer was hired and Philbrook then had time to deal with the complaints that have been received, some dating back a long time.

Lamb said that addressing these houses is important for the entire community.

“This is a path toward improvement so the neighborhoods don’t deteriorate,” Lamb said.

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