Two people have died in a “sober house” called Hilltop Manor in Salem since November, alarming city officials and police who for months have complained that the homes are unregulated facilities that encourage drug and alcohol abuse.
Police are investigating reports that someone moved one of the bodies in order to cover up the fact that the person died at the house located at 179 Boston St., according to Salem’s Ward 2 City Councilor Michael Sosnowski, who created a subcommittee to try to regulate the facilities, which are variously called “rooming houses” or “sober houses.’’
A sober house is a substance-free rooming house for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, city officials said. Sosnowski said Hilltop Manor was acting as a kind of sober house even though it wasn’t licensed as one.
“Rather than have circumstances of the of the body show up and display that the action happened there, the body was removed and brought over to (another address),” Sosnowski said during a telephone interview this afternoon. “The neighbors were obviously upset about this and as time passed, learning the body did not originate there.
“It’s very upsetting. Here we are having all these negative impacts throughout Salem and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.
Sosnowski said the city currently has no regulations to control the roughly one dozen sober and rooming houses in Salem. Drug dependence is protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said today she was interested in exploring tougher regulations of the homes.
“If there’s any way to play a larger role in regulating these houses we certainly want to do that,’’ she said.
Sosnowski said one regulation the city is going to try to require at the facilities is a live-in manager that is licensed or certified.
“We can’t just ban these houses because there are people that legitimately use them,” Sosnowski said. “At the same time these houses are being abused by people that like to play the system. We need to establish a set of rules and guidelines.‘’
Salem Police Chief Paul F. Tucker said police responded 54 times to Hilltop Manor between 2010 and 2011 for various public disturbances.
Tucker said a 30-year-old man died there on Nov. 9 and a 40-year-old man died on Dec. 4. The medical examiner has yet to determine the cause of death, according to Sosnowski.
Tucker, who declined to provide the victim’s names, said an investigation into the moving of the body of the man who died Nov. 9 body is continuing.
“I’m in favor of any tools to help us do our job and improve the quality of life,” Tucker said. “[The city] is looking at how it can discipline them. If there’s a problem the landlord would have the ability to move people and make sure they are in compliance of fire code and health code.”
This past fall Sosnowski created a city council subcommittee on rules and regulations for boarding, lodging and sober houses after neighbors complained about the license for a Howard Street facility changing ownership with hardly any oversight from the city’s licensing board.
Sosnowski said there will be a public hearing on the issue in February.
“We don’t want to step on anyone’s constitutional rights, they have rights as well,” he said. “There’s so much to talk about. It’s so early in the conversation.”
Justin A. Rice can be reached at email@example.com