Clutter, violations build up at San Mateo condo

San Mateo inspection officials checking into the welfare of an elderly resident uncovered a museum’s worth of artifacts, art and other flammable materials packed into one of the Gateway Commons condominiums more than a year ago, and Thursday, they called in movers to begin carting it away.

Resident Connie Case and her 86-year-old mother, Elsa, screamed and protested as workers from Peninsula Hauling and Demolition Co. carted away an entire dump truck full of shelving, seashells, photographs and personal files.

And while collecting goods and artwork are not a violation of fire codes, stacks of papers, textiles and wooden furniture next to space heaters, blocking entry points for emergency personnel, is, Neighborhood Improvement and Housing Director Robert Muehlbauer said.

As they moved items tosatisfy a court-ordered “Inspection and Abatement” warrant, Muehlbauer said they learned that the unit had been operating without heat and possibly without both hot and cold running water, another code violation.

The city will look into each code violation once the house is cleared enough to allow inspectors and staff members to move freely through it, Muehlbauer said.

“Before we can do any assessment, we need to start with a cleaner canvas, but our overriding concern is the fire safety of the 150 or more other people living in this complex,” he said.

Connie Case said city officials had contacted her and her mother at least five times in the last year, and each time, they got sidetracked by “unimportant” matters and never got around to cleaning up. Her calendar was marked with each date they had been contacted by the city.

“Because of all the stuff we’ve both been dealing with, we’ve neglected our own health,” Case said.

She said her mother had a heart attack this last year and left the hospital before being fully treated. Case blames the city for “instigating” her mother’s heart attack.

Although the house is not cluttered, the well-organized piles of papers and other items lined every hallway and room of the house, preventing people from walking past one another in the hallway.

Case said that at many times, furniture stood in front of the doorway, and at times, there was discarded newspapers and trash on the floor up to an inch thick.

“My heart goes out to these people,” Muehlbauer said. “I hope that by moving all of this, they can get a fresh look at things.”

The items will be kept in a rented storage unit until Case or a member of her family can find a way to handle them all.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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