SALEM — A high-profile drug bust at an apartment building owned by a Salem city councilor has raised questions about his oversight of the property.
But police Chief Mary Butler said the building at 49 Butler St. is not considered a problem property by the city and that Councilor-at-large Domingo Dominguez has been a responsible landlord.
“I don’t think we’ve had any problems working with Domingo at all,” Butler said.
On June 21, police seized nearly half a pound of fentanyl and $13,000 in cash following the arrest of a man who was staying at 49 Butler St., a two-family building that Dominguez has owned since 1999. The man, identified by police as 25-year-old Jose Fernando Vittini Arias, was charged with trafficking fentanyl and four counts of distribution.
In an interview, Dominguez said that Arias was living in the house without his knowledge. He said he has started eviction proceedings against the tenants who allowed Arias to move in.
“I follow the rules,” Dominguez said. “When you rent an apartment, sometimes you have good tenants, sometimes you don’t have good tenants.”
Police have been called to 49 Butler St. more than 60 times since Dominguez bought the building in August 1999, according to police records. Many of the incidents happened in the early 2000’s and included disputes involving one tenant.
In 2013, the Salem Board of Health also filed a complaint against Dominguez in housing court, saying there was trash and garbage “all over the rear of the property” and barrels “uncovered and overflowing.” The complaint said the Board of Health had received numerous complaints but the problems had not been corrected.
A judge ordered Dominguez to remove the trash, and the complaint was dismissed in 2015. Dominguez acknowledged that the cleanup “took a while,” saying the property needed some work.
In June 2016, police went to check on the building after receiving a report that it was “abandoned.” An officer said a roof gutter and flashing were hanging off the house. The city’s building inspector found no one inside and had a contractor secure the building, the report said.
Dominguez said he was having financial issues at the time and the bank closed down the property. He said he reopened the building soon after.
Since 2017, police have gone to the building a handful of times for minor incidents, including a cooking fire, a lost phone, and a complaint about a resident dropping ashes from a tobacco pipe out the window.
Ward 4 Councilor Tim Flynn said he heard some complaints about the condition of the building when he was running for office in 2017. He said Dominguez addressed those concerns and Flynn has not heard any complaints since.
Flynn said Dominguez gave him a tour of the outside of the building recently to show him the improvements.
“I can’t speak for everything that goes on there, but nobody’s reaching out to me complaining,” Flynn said.
Flynn said he has never received any reports of drug activity at the house and was “shocked” at the recent fentanyl arrest.
Butler, the police chief, said 49 Butler St. has not been classified as a problem property, which the city defines as a building where police have been called at least four times in the preceding 12 months for any arrestable offenses, or for which the building or health departments have received at least four sustained complaints in the preceding 12 months.
Butler described the police calls to the building as “sporadic” and “probably no different than typically landlords have to deal with.”
“You find some people that are great tenants and others that are problematic,” Butler said. “Unfortunately that’s part of being a landlord, You can only do so much in terms of assessing an individual.”
Butler said the key is for landlords to be willing to work with police and city officials when there are problems. She said Dominiguez has done that. She praised him for taking “very decisive action” after the drug bust by beginning the eviction process.
Dominiguez said he plans to make more improvements to the building and will “keep my eyes open” for any problems.
“Hopefully we cross our fingers that we’re going to have good tenants,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m not responsible for what they do when they close the door.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.