Conviction but no jail time for illegal Canton house rehab

A District Court judge on Thursday convicted an Ellicott City man of undertaking major renovations at his mother's Canton rowhouse without permits, but spared him jail time by suspending his 90-day sentence. Martin Pozoulakis, found guilty of two misdemeanor counts, also was fined $1,000.

The case was a rare example of the city seeking jail time as punishment for illegal rehab work.

In imposing the sentence, Judge Ronald A. Karasic said he was disturbed that Pozoulakis chose to "snub his nose" at city officials who tried to monitor conditions at the house in the 2100 block of Cambridge St.

Pozoulakis, 54, waived his right to a trial. Instead, he maintained his innocence while agreeing to a statement of facts read into the record by prosecutor June Johnson.

Not only did Pozoulakis fail to obtain permits, he refused to let housing inspectors inside and ignored a stop-work order, according to the statement.

The three-story house was condemned after inspectors discovered structural problems in October while executing a search warrant. Among the problems they observed was a chimney that had been partially removed, leaving the upper portion unsupported.

Although the chimney, damaged floor joists and other urgent concerns have since been addressed, numerous changes still must be made under a January consent order, city officials say.

In court, Pozoulakis said he carried out the rehab on behalf of his 88-year-old mother, Millie, who is now living with his family. "Everything I've done is just for the sole purpose to help her," he told the judge. Outside the courtroom, Pozoulakis said he was "happy that it's over."

Thomas Waugh, chief of the housing agency's Special Investigations Unit, said he was satisfied with the outcome, noting that Pozoulakis now has a criminal record. "Hopefully, in the end this house will be fixed up, and Mr. Pozoulakis has gotten the message he can't continue," he said in an interview.

Last year's incident was Pozoulakis' second run-in with the city over the house. In 2009 he built an illegal rear addition that he converted to an open porch only after the city scheduled its demolition.

"The city supports investment in your property and the beautification of homes," said housing spokeswoman Cheron Porter. "We just want folks to do it in a safe way for themselves and for the greater public safety."

Deputy Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman earlier described the Pozoulakis case as "really out of the ordinary" and the source of repeated complaints from neighbors. He said "much less drastic methods could be used to address the majority of the work that goes on without a permit."

In 2006, the City Council added a jail term for the misdemeanor crime of doing work without a permit. A year later, the term was modified to 90 days. Officials say the enhanced penalty is pursued only a few times a year, and they could point to just one case in which a violator was incarcerated.

In suspending Pozoulakis' jail term, Karasic noted his lack of prior contact with the criminal justice system. But the judge warned him to avoid any more trouble with housing inspectors. Otherwise, Karasic said, "I will put you in jail for the full 90 days, is that understood?"

"Yes, your honor," Pozoulakis said.

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