Tenant crosses street, enters another home
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
Allegations of an illegal duplex operating in Fonthill took an unexpected turn last week, when one neighbour says a duplex tenant crossed the street, entered her home uninvited, and behaved in a threatening manner.
Emmett Street resident Cari Pupo said she was up early on November 2, driving one son to work when she received a frantic call from another son around 6:55 AM.
“The call got disconnected, but I raced home to find a stranger standing in the basement, [blocking my son’s] way out of the house,” Pupo said.
She identified the man as a resident of a house directly across the street from hers, one she says has been operating as an illegal duplex for at least two months.
“He was agitated, getting agitated by my son,” Pupo said. “My son felt he could be harmed. He hid a hammer behind his back in case the situation escalated.”
The man, later identified as Austin Cappa, 25, seemed insistent that he was inside his own home.
“He claimed that he owned this house,” Pupo said, observing that he was likely intoxicated. Cappa had apparently entered the house through an unlocked lower door. Once inside, Pupo said he turned off exterior garage lights. Pupo’s 23-year-old son called police once discovering him.
After apparently coming to his senses and leaving Pupo’s house, Cappa was ticketed a short time later by police. NRP media relations specialist Stephanie Sabourin confirmed to the Voice that a 25-year-old male was ticketed for entry where entry prohibited, a minor offence under the provincial Trespass to Property Act.
The fact that Cappa wasn’t arrested didn’t sit well with Pupo.
“[The police officer] said it wasn’t break and enter because there’s no willful intent. But how do they know that?” Pupo said. “She indicated to me that what he did was unintentional and that there was no malice intended. Did she not understand that he was threatening to my son when I arrived home? Does someone need to be seriously hurt before they are charged?”
Exacerbating the matter is Pupo’s belief that Cappa is targeting her for harassment because of her opposition to the duplex, which she said is owned by his parents, who do not live in the house but elsewhere in Fonthill.
“I have no doubt. Just the way he watches me,” she said. “The whole problem is if the Town had have done their job and made sure that this wasn’t going to become a duplex illegally, then he wouldn’t be here.”
However, Cappa denies this. When reached by the Voice through social media, Cappa asserted that he was ignorant about the ongoing dispute between his parents, Pupo, and other neighbours on Emmett.
“I don’t even know what the zoning complaints are about,” he said. “[Entering Pupo’s house] was an absolute mistake on my part, I was under the influence of alcohol and thought I was dreaming … I sincerely apologize for absolute idiotic conduct.”
As for as the alleged illegal duplex at 42 Emmett, Town staff confirmed to the Voice that they are aware of the issue.
“We have received complaints regarding zoning and we are currently investigating,” Fire Chief and Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner said. “This is all the information I can offer at this time.”
The neighbourhood is currently zoned “R2” by the Town, meaning single-family residential dwellings only.
Pupo, who served as Treasurer for the Town of Pelham from 2008-17, provided the Voice with copies of emails between various neighbours and Town staff regarding complaints about the home.
Mike and Carol Jones, who have lived next to the Cappa house for 40-plus years, met with Pelham CAO David Cribbs and Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens on November 1, the day before the incident between Pupo and Austin Cappa. The Joneses allege incompetence on the Town’s part in enforcing its own bylaws.
“At this meeting volumes of legislation was presented from the Town website as to what needs to be done when someone is using a premises for something other than the zoning bylaw indicates it can be used for,” the email reads. “The information we collected was rejected by Cribbs, [who] clearly stated he was not there to answer our written questions, or for us to do his job for him. The neighbours were very disturbed by the lack of respect given to this matter. Specifically, Mr. Cribbs indicated that the [duplex] owners could see [the Town] doing inspections as harassment … it’s called doing your job, not harassment … according to the information in the zoning bylaw as listed on the Town’s own website, the staff at the permission of Council do have the right to enter a home to determine the use. It seemed that Town staff that enforce the zoning bylaw did not even know that this regulation even existed or that the homeowner can be fined for changing a single residential dwelling into an illegal duplex.”
Cribbs confirmed the meeting to the Voice, but wouldn’t divulge details.
“I can confirm that on Friday of last week I did meet with some residents on Emmett Street who allege that an ongoing offence is occurring at a residential address,” Cribbs said. “Those residents were not Ms. Pupo. I cannot comment on the specifics of any investigation. I can state that at any point in time, the bylaw Department has a few dozen open files, which can include potential zoning violations. The Town’s traditional approach to by-law enforcement emphasizes compliance over punishment, and there is no reason to think that this file will be any different.”
Pupo says that Cappa lives on the lower floor of the home, while another tenant occupies the main floor. Carol Jones said that she and her husband watched, over the course of the last several months, as the formerly single-family residence was turned into two units, taking photographs of the progress along the way. She provided a screen capture to the Voice, which she said showed interior images of the basement as it appeared when the house was listed for sale last year. The photos show a semi-finished space, with a painted concrete floor, and no kitchen.
Jones recalled that decades ago a small juice factory occupied what is now 40 and 42 Emmett, with a single-family residence above. This operation ceased sometime around 1978. Most of the premises were demolished and the lot was divided to create two single-family dwellings, which remained the case for the next 40 years.
When she and her husband inquired of the new owners what sort of renovations were underway, Jones said that they were effectively told to mind their own business. (The owners did not respond to a request for comment before press time.)
They watched as two tenants arrived in late summer—one moving into the main floor, accessed through the home’s front door, the other—Austin Cappa—moving into the lower space, accessed through a side door.
A decade ago, the Joneses added an additional bedroom and bathroom to their own home, for the use of Mike Jones’ mother, now passed away. Carol Jones said that the couple followed every bylaw to the letter, paying for the appropriate permits and inspections. Their addition conformed to R2 zoning rules.
Cari Pupo remains convinced that Cappa’s intrusion into her home is related to the ongoing complaints.
“He knows damn well that I’m involved in trying to get [the Town to enforce the] R2 zoning,” she said.
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