The battered Dorchester house looked as bad as it smelle an overgrown lawn, discarded liquor and beer bottles, and the smell of rotting garbage that sprang from an overloading trash can.
282 Centre St. was one of 20 city code violations issued in the two years since a local developer bought the property. That late September afternoon, despite rusting the fence, an orange ticket remained to the rusted fence.
During the financial crisis, the same business bought a tiny red house out of foreclosure on the next block for $191,000 and committed 13 code violations over the following decade. It's now a newly constructed, six-unit condominium complex with swanky amenities like pampered gyms and other high-end touches for $4.2 million.
Douglas R. George, the developer and landlord in both cases, is the building owner in each case, whose wife, City Councilor Annissa Essibi George (another city councilor), is one of two candidates running for mayor. He has been a quietly visible part of her campaign supporting her at campaign rallies and in television ads.
He is also a prominent player on the city real estate scene, but few people are aware of Georges extensive property holdings, or how his business dealings with the municipality may force his wife to act quickly to avoid conflicts of interest if she were elected mayor.
According to a Globe investigation of deeds and records, George and his companies control about 55 properties in Boston with an assessed value of $54 million. His portfolio has covered the whole of the socioeconomic spectrum, from million-dollar condominiums and modern apartments geared toward young professionals to tidy two- and three-family houses that appear well maintained from the street. But he also owns a number of tired, multi-family apartment buildings with broken windows and rotten porches, as well as at least eight vacant lots and abandoned buildings that have wracked neighbors' fury.
He has plans to build a tower as high as 18 stories with 120 residential units in South Boston, which are pending before the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
Bostons zoning code focuses power in City Hall, allowing developers, large and small, to deal with the city all the time. The city also regulates landlords and protects tenants' rights. The code enforcement police, tax assessor, building officials, and housing inspectors all work for the mayor. In recent years, each has had a tangle with Essaibi Georges husband.
According to Bostons code enforcement database, the city has cited George s properties for more than 550 code violations since 2008, with fines totaling more then $40,000.
The city claims that 347 violations were included, with more than $25,000 in penalties marked closed, which indicates the penalty had been paid. Another 205 violations with nearly $15,000 in fines remain open, meaning they are unpaid or are under appeal.
According to the data, Georges properties have been cited 376 times for trash, 98 times overgrown weeds, and 15 times failing to shovel snow. Since January, Councilor Essaibi George has committed 82 code violations, according to the tally.
Georges lawyer initially challenged the city s history of violations, calling the total grossly exaggerated. After reviewing the Globes collection of public records, attorney David Rich said the city hadnt adequately informed his client of the violations.
Rich explained, This is a broken system. This is not a Douglas George issue, but rather statewide systemic failure, he added.
Rich noted that the majority of the violations were for improper trash storage, which he stated was the fault of tenants. However, the city holds property owners liable for such acts.
Essaibi Georges campaign stoked the Globe reprehensibility over the candidate husband estate.
The Globe is throwing anything it can at the wall to see what sticks in relation to Annissas husband, according to campaign spokeswoman Nicole Caravella. If Annissas husband is in breach of any statute, he will pay, and if a violation occurs, the judge will hold him accountable just like any other person. In many interviews, she has stated her desire to maintain a separation between her work and her husbands.
Douglas R. George declined an interview request, but sent a five-page letter through his lawyer, alleging that the Globe was trying to degrade his reputation to aid the campaign of his wifes political rival, City Councilor Michelle Wu.
George has a long history of creating quality housing in the City of Boston, according to the letter, and George strongly objects to this claim.
While there is nothing unusual or doubtable about a municipal official having sex with he/she has business interactions with the city, experts said it can be arduous to ensure that no conflicts of interest arise.
Its a delicate situation for mayor to have he/she associated with such business activities, said Alan Mallach, formerly of the Center for Community Progress, which works to combat vacant and degraded properties. Because the fact is that those are business activities that involve the city in some way or another whether it's code enforcement, zoning, or building permits.
Essaibi George has no ownership or management position in any of her husbands numerous businesses, but state law prohibits any public employee from any involvement in matters in which their spouse has a financial interest.
Essaibi George declined an interview request. Her campaign said in a statement that her work as mayor would remain separate from that of her husband's. The campaign also provided a September letter from the state Ethics Commission that detailed how the conflict of interest legislation might affect her potential mayoral administration.
The advisory noted that when it came to her husbands businesses, the law prohibits her from engaging in formal discussions, informal lobbying, offering advice, or even personally delegating matters to aides. Real estate is particularly complex because the conflict of interest statute can extend to neighboring properties. Essaibi George, according to the ethics advisory, should not take any action on matters involving properties abutting or near her husbands property as mayor. The campaign said she planned to follow the advice.
Erin OBrien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said it would be unfair to prohibit political spouses from running . She added, however, that there are practical concerns about how front-line city workers would regulate Douglas Georges properties if Essaibi George wins.
Do you want to give a major violation to the mayors husband as he works on the street level? I think most of us would answer yes, said OBrien.
Would you like to complain if you were one of the tenants? OBrien said.
Essaibi George has said that if she is elected, her husband will not seek city approval for new developments, despite his involvement in two projects currently pending before the Boston Planning & Development Agency. The campaign and George did not respond to a question on whether he would continue to pursue those developments if she is elected.
Douglas Georges businesses have offered some support for her bid for mayor.
Last month, at least 17 of his properties displayed Essaibi George for mayor signs. One stood outside a brick two-family on Saxton Street, where in July city inspectors issued George penalties after the bathroom ceiling collapsed.
Columbia Flats, a six-story, 40-unit apartment complex being built by one of Georges limited liability companies on Massachusetts Avenue, blocks from the couple's home, is also nearby.
Unfinished, ground-floor room in the building is being used as storage space for the Essaibi George campaign. A Globe reporter watched as a flatbed truck from 'a Hyde Park auto body firm' doubled up and dozens of campaign signs were loaded onto sand.
State campaign finance legislation does not preclude businesses from posting political signs, but it does prohibit campaigns from accepting in-kind donations from businesses, and it generally requires that market-rate rent be paid for storage space and the use of vehicles.
Essaibi Georges campaign hasnt disclosed any rent payments to her husband's businesses for sign storage or any fees to the tow truck company, which has donated to an independent political committee supporting her candidacy. The campaign and Douglas George did not respond to questions about the storage.
If a campaign is receiving assistance from corporation, that must be disclosed in opportune time, said Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. If they are not, that would raise significant concerns under our campaign finance laws, he added.
One of Essaibi Georges campaign signs overlooks a shabby vacant lot on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury, which her husband has owned since 2013.
A neighbor reported a rare clean-up of the lot last month, just before the preliminary mayoral election. On the morning of Sept. 28, however, plenty of trash, including heaps of brush, a stack of broken lights, and an old tire, persisted.
Marline Arana, 51, a neighbor whose opinion of Essaibi George was tainted by the condition of her husbands lot, said: If shell run for mayor, she should beautify that. Little things like that make a huge difference in quality of life, he added.
Developers buy vacant lots cheap and let them sit because the land may become more valuable to build on years later. From a business perspective, the practice of land banking may make sense. But poor maintained lots can drag down a neighborhood, attracting vandalism and other crimes, according to Mallach, from the Center for Community Progress, which has studied the impact of vacant properties on cities.
Further north on Blue Hill Avenue, one of Georges businesses owns an abandoned house with peeling yellow paint, broken windows, and a roof partially open to the sky. Neighbors consider it an eyecatcher and wish he would wipe it up and do something with it.
George tends to improve properties he owns over the course of time. He and his companies have constructed a 38-unit building at 35 South Huntington in Mission Hill, which boasts lounges, physiotherapy, and an outdoor patio. He has long ago sold off crumbling buildings or vacant land and created something new.
Much of his real estate is concentrated in the Polish Triangle area of Dorchester, just south of Andrew Square, where he, his wife, and their children have long lived. Many of his two- and three-family residences there look fairly well maintained.
George has owned a 15-storey brick structure in Lower Mills, which has been abandoned since 2004. The property is often overgrown with weeds and has been a magnet for graffiti and illicit drinking, according to neighbors.
The South Boston site where George has built an 18-story tower is now a shuttered brick warehouse that last month had broken windows and strewn with old tires, wood pallets, and trash.
The Globe also looked into the real estate holdings of Wu, the other mayoral finalist. She and her husband, Conor Pewarski, a commercial real estate banker, own merely one piece of property namely - s o res, which they share with their children in n Roslindale, Maine. Wus mother lives in the other unit. According to a city spokesman, there have been no code violations since they bought the house.
Douglas R. George and his firms own two dozen or more Boston rental properties, many of which require regular contact with city building and housing inspectors who report to the mayor, among other things. George, for example, received a violation notice for rat infestation in his worn, three-family home on Esmond Street in April. It was written on letterhead with the mayors name, as with all crimes.
George has also had to deal with his tenants in the past as a landlord. Records show he has gone to court at least 20 times in the last decade to evict tenants, including a 2019 case filed against occupants of Essaibi Georges popular Stitch House knitting store on Dorchester Avenue. George, not his wife, owns Stitch House Real Estate LLC, which own the building and filed for eviction.
Georges lawyer didnt elaborate on the Stitch House case, but he stated that eviction is a last resort for tenants who endanger others safety or repeatedly fail to pay rent.
This July, a roof leak collapsed the ceiling in Martha Jacksons apartment in southeastern Maryland, which George owns. Jackson said she called Polish Triangle Property Management, one of Georges firms, for two weeks to no avail, and then gave up.
Jackson, 61, drove to Essaibi Georges campaign headquarters with pictures of the damage, saying she felt ignored. She stated that the candidate was not there, but the property management firm responded quickly.
George was charged with a half-dozen sanitary code violations by City inspectors. Jackson acknowledged that her apartment was messy, but said she did not cause the leak in her roof, which city inspectors have noted since 2019. Jackson said that she was responsible for a severe accumulation of trash and debris, which George said hampered repair efforts. George said he responded quickly to Jacksons requests and has adhered to his obligations as a landlord.
Jackson wants to remove the Annissa Essibi George for mayor sign that was tied to the rusted fence outside her building now that she's back home on Saxton Street.
Jackson said he wants to take it down so badly. It came from the management, he added.
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @globeleandrewewryman.