Joyce absolved of wrongdoing

Milton official says senator obtained all needed permits

SEN. BRIAN JOYCE obtained all the required permits to renovate his home, according to a report by the Milton Town Administrator that rebuts questions raised in a newspaper article over whether the lawmaker clandestinely renovated his house without town officials’ knowledge.

“Based upon my review of these files and my consultation with the Building Commissioner, I conclude that the developer who sold the property and/or Senator and Mrs. Joyce obtained the necessary building permits for the work described in those records,” Annemarie Fagan, reading from her report, told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night.

Fagan’s report came in the wake of an August 15 story in the Boston Globe that charged Joyce made extensive renovations of his home, secretly adding 2,500 square feet of living space, “apparently without the required town permits.” Fagan said her review of town records indicates all the necessary permits were obtained.

The Globe story also focused on a real estate listing for the house and the asking price of $1.725 million, which is twice the assessed value of $867,500. The story cited a finished basement, attic, office, and one more bedroom and bathroom than town records showed as proof that Joyce remodeled his house without approval.

Fagan, though, said her investigation not only revealed all the needed permits were in order but she also cited an audio tape from a 2003 Board of Appeals hearing in which Joyce sought a variance to build the attached garage and described much of the renovations underway. The board gave its unanimous approval for the variance.

Fagan also said another permit the Joyces had sought was correctly filed but could not be located. She said a letter from the then-town building commissioner acknowledged receipt of the permit.

Joyce bought his home from a company called Norfolk Development in March 2003. The 100-year-old home had recently been moved from another location and required extensive work to make it livable. Joyce said at the time that he wanted to purchase the house “as is,” but the developer would not sell it unless the senator agreed to allow the $110,000 of renovations listed in permits obtained in September 2002. The renovations, which apparently continued into 2004, included building a new foundation.

“All of the foregoing may be found in public files located in the Inspectional Services Department,” Fagan said. “Both the tape of the June 10, 2003, Board of Appeals hearing and the Board of Appeals’ July 9, 2003, written decision indicate that extensive rehabilitation work was underway and the home was not habitable either when the Joyces purchased the home or at the time of the Board of Appeals hearing. I conclude from these records that Norfolk and/or Senator and Mrs. Joyce sought and obtained the necessary permits or approvals to rehabilitate the property as described in those records.”

Fagan said permits issued more than a decade ago were far more lax in detail than what is required today, making it likely that much of the renovations that have been performed on the home happened under the 2002 permit.

“Milton’s current Building Commissioner, Joseph Prondak, has advised me that in many municipalities, prior to the establishment of online permitting, permit records were often broad-based and included a general description of the work to be done,” Fagan wrote. “The lnspectional Services Department’s files include a one-page Milton Assessors’ property record date-stamped October 25, 2002, with comments noting ‘major repairs/rehab in progress-new ext. walls, needs windows; gar. in progress also’ and that the property should be rechecked when completed.”

Fagan’s report is the second time town officials have cleared Joyce of any wrongdoing in regard to his home. In August, the three-member Board of Assessors said Joyce’s home would be reassessed in the wake of the real estate listing, but said he and his wife had done nothing wrong.

The Globe story quoted unnamed town officials as saying Joyce, who is under fire on a number of fronts including a federal investigation, should pay a lot more in property taxes than the $11,711 he will pay this year. The story said the unnamed town officials believed Joyce’s tax bill should be closer to the $27,459 a year that his neighbor, former governor Deval Patrick, was paying before his house was sold earlier this year. The story reported that “town assessors believe Joyce may have been shortchanging Milton on taxes for years by tens of thousands of dollars.”

The town assessor and two of the three members of the Board of Assessors said last month that they did not believe Joyce did anything wrong. The third member of the board, William Bennett, told the Globe that he would be concerned if any town resident did not apply for the proper permits when doing renovations. Fagan’s report suggests that concern was unwarranted.

Milton’s assessors still have to determine the true value of Joyce’s home in light of the real estate listing suggesting the property is worth far more than the assessed value.

Milton Selectman David Burnes said the only way to answer all the questions about the home is to get inside. The town’s chief assessor, Robert Bushway, asked Joyce if inspectors could come into the home, but the senator declined. Bushway and other town officials say residents are not required to admit assessors to their home. They said roughly 60 percent of homes in Milton have not been inspected inside by assessors during reevaluation periods.

Some of the questions raised by the Globe story regarding the home’s value have already been answered.  The assessor’s office lists the home’s finished area as a little more than 3,800 square feet, while the realtor’s listing touts 6,444 square feet of living space, leading the Globe to claim the 2,500-square-foot difference was  added without the town’s knowledge.

The town’s assessors, however, said the basement area, whether it is finished or not finished, is not included in assessing records as living area. The Globe also cited the finished attic as being left off from the assessing documents, but Bushway said standard assessing practice is to only count 25 to 35 percent of the finished area in an attic because of sloping roof lines. Also, one of the rooms the Globe cites as a bedroom has been listed as part of the original house plans as a “sewing room.” Assessors say bedrooms are not counted differently than other rooms, except by buyers.

The listing also shows the house having 13 rooms while town records say the house has eight room plus the finished attic. The difference appears to revolve around how a finished cellar is viewed. While the basement in Joyce’s house appears to be divided into three rooms, standard practice is to assess the basement as a single finished area so all homes are valued the same way around the country.

Regardless of whether assessors get in the house or not, it is likely the value will rise with the next valuation, though board member James Henderson said last month it’s “ludicrous” to think Joyce’s home has the same value as Patrick’s.

The assessment on Patrick’s house, it turns out, may have been off-base. Town records indicate the assessed value was just over $2 million when Patrick sold it for $1.2 million.

Globe editor Scott Allen, who said last week the newspaper stands by its story, said in an email that the newspaper’s original story did not imply that Joyce’s home was comparable to Patrick’s.

“Town officials did not tell us that Sen. Brian Joyce’s house should be taxed at the same rate as Deval Patrick’s,” Allen wrote. “They told us that Joyce’s bill ‘should be closer’ to Patrick’s bill. We don’t know if those two houses are comparable and the only way tax assessors would know would be if Joyce allowed them to walk through the house. Sen. Joyce has refused to do that. “

Allen added, “We have spoken directly to people who have been inside both houses and they have actually said that Brian Joyce’s house is nicer.”

The decision on what Joyce’s home is worth will not be settled until January 1, when assessors post the new evaluations in town records.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.