FOX UNDERCOVER - The main source of heat in Jacqueline Ashley's rented home in Milton is her stove, all burners on and glowing red and the oven on high, the door ajar.
"I'm very concerned. But I've been doing this ever since it got cold," she said.
She's also hung blankets over the inside doorways to keep the limited heat provided by the stove and space heaters trapped in the living room and kitchen.
She's been without heat or hot water since May, the furnace deemed unsafe despite state law requiring a "proper working furnace to supply sufficient heat at all times from September 15 through June 15."
The situation is so bad for the town condemned the property. But while Ashley and her family are homeless, her landlord's recently renovated house in one of Massachusetts' wealthiest suburbs stands in stark contrast.
Milton's health director blames the landlord, writing in an email, "…the owner has refused to repair the furnace to provide heat to his tenants."
Ashley says the landlord won't return her calls. If he did, she'd give him an earful.
"How would you like boiling water every day for your kids to take a bath? Turning the oven on, which is dangerous. How would you like to live like that?" she said. "How was your holiday? Because mine wasn't a good holiday. I thank God that I'm living. But where was your holiday. How's your family doing?"
The landlord, Yao Feng, appears to be doing just fine. He's living in Lincoln at a recently renovated 3,800-square-foot home.
"I really don't want to talk," Feng told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet. "So can you leave my property please?"
"We can, but can you tell us why the heat's not on?" Beaudet said.
"This is private property," Feng replied.
"The town says you're breaking the law," Beaudet asked him.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, really. You should talk to my attorney on this matter," Feng replied.
"You seem like you're doing pretty well here in Lincoln. Your tenant's not doing very well," Beaudet said.
"Sir, this is private property. Please get off my property," he said.
Feng's attorney, Peter Aspesi, did sit down for an interview.
"My understanding is there was an agreement between the landlord and the tenants that the tenants would repair the furnace. They owe a substantial amount of money in back rent," Aspesi said.
Ashley admits she stopped paying rent, but says she stopped only after the furnace stopped working. She denies cutting a deal to fix the furnace herself.
Beaudet said to attorney Aspesi: "The town says your client is refusing to fix the furnace?"
"That's not true," Aspesi said. "If it was a situation where Mr. Feng knew the furnace wasn't going to be repaired by the tenant, he would have taken steps to repair the heat."
The furnace was finally fixed this week, courtesy of the town of Milton. But it was the town, not the landlord that paid the bill, with the town saying they will try and recoup the cost.
It's not the first time Feng has clashed with the town of Milton. He's been cited before for issues with previous tenants including overcrowding and other violations.
"Is your client a slumlord?" Beaudet asked.
"No, not at all," Aspesi said.
As the temperature dropped, the town came up with a plan to pay to fix the furnace and then go after the landlord in court for the money.
"Does the town need to go in there and fix this furnace?" Beaudet asked.
"I believe Mr. Feng is going to do what he's supposed to do as a landlord and make the repairs," Aspesi said.
Ashley, who's been staying in a shelter at night since the town condemned the house on New Year's Eve, isn't counting on it.
"I don't see how he can lay down at night knowing that he has a tenant living in one of his properties and not fixing the heat or the hot water. How could you do that? Where's your heart?"
Not only is Milton trying to get back the cost of the furnace, they are taking Feng's wife, the person listed as the owner of the property, to court later this month.
Meantime, Ashley is hoping to find a new five bedroom home in Milton to rent, so she doesn't have to deal with the landlord anymore.
© 2016 Cox Media Group.
FOX Undercover: Tenant left without heat as landlord lives well
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