The demolished container home.
POND ISLAND--A family who set up a reinforced container home on government land on Pond Island without authorization is now crying foul after officials of the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI demolished the structure after several warnings including a building-stop/removal order, went ignored.
Ermitania Pasqual, the sister of two men, who had been living in the demolished container home, told The Daily Herald on Friday she had already been living on Pond Island. She said there had been an empty plot of land near her and after her now 67-year-old brother lost his home in Sucker Garden during Hurricane Irma, she advised him to set up a container home on the vacant plot near hers.
She claimed to have spoken to a woman, who works in government, and asked if a fee would need to be paid for her brother to occupy the plot of land. She claimed that she was told that the container “would not be touched” if her brother set up his home there.
Pasqual said her brother, who does not speak much English, spent a lot of money to construct a concrete base and concrete reinforcement around the container to secure it in the event of a future hurricane. Her two brothers resided in the container home alone and it was not being rented out as she said was being alleged.
According to the woman, not too long after trouble started with police being called on two occasions and the family was asked to remove the container. She was also served with a Building Stop/Removal Order from VROMI. She claimed that when she visited VROMI about the order, “the government people did not want to talk to me.”
When asked why the family did not make efforts to relocate after receiving warnings and notices, she said “he (her brother) spent a lot of money on the place, so who will break their place if they spend their money and they live there.”
She said the main occupant of the container home is her 63-year-old brother, who is ill with frequent back pains and headache. She said he had been a mechanic, but does not work currently. Her other brother is 58 years old and works for St. Maarten Red Cross.
“It’s government land. Anyone can take the land. He (my brother) spent a lot of money to clean the land here. After the hurricane, he put a container there. He put cement for security for the hurricane and a little bit of blocks,” she said.
Authorities demolished the structure on Thursday. The sister said her brothers lost all their possessions and investment into the container home during the demolition. They now have no place to go and have since been staying with her, at her home.
“This is abuse. They used their power and they did not bring the Prosecutor (during the demolition). How can they be so abusive?” she asked in between tears. “If they want to break the house, then get some place else for him to live. Why are they only targeting my family?”
In an invited comment on the matter, Head of VROMI's Inspection Department John Davis said Pasqual had received multiple warnings and building stops about the property. She had been advised to visit the department and “get the situation legalized,” but all notices and advices had been ignored.
Davis said he had personally spoken to Pasqual on more than one occasion about the situation, but his advice for her to follow the proper procedures fell on deaf ears. “I personally tried to work with the lady,” Davis said. “I even went to her two days before (the demolition) and she still did not do anything,” he said, adding that the cost of the demolition will be for Pasqual’s account.
Asked why only this one structure had been demolished and not all the other illegally constructed ones around it, he said the other structures were already established with persons living in them, and this was a new construction that authorities issued a building stop on, which had been ignored.
Asked in what way the family could have legally constructed on the property, he said there are procedures that have to be followed and the structure has to be in accordance with the country’s building ordinance. He said also that in the current situation, without a building permit, there cannot be legal connection of utilities such as electricity and water to the container home. Pasqual had said all the homes in the area, including the recently demolished one, had what she claimed had been legally connected electricity and water.
Smith says he takes no pleasure in having to oversee the demolishing of someone’s home, but said there is little choice if the person refuses to adhere to warnings issued. He spoke of another case he is dealing with currently that involves a single mother and her children living in deplorable conditions in a container with no windows, who is cooperating with authorities and he is going beyond the call of duty, as he usually does, to assist the person find alternative housing. In the case of Pasqual, Smith said, there was zero cooperation.
A Building Stop/Removal Order issued to Pasqual, dated September 3, 2019, stated that the Inspection Department of VROMI Ministry had established that building activities were being carried out on an undocumented parcel of land on Soualiga Drive, Pond Island.
“You are carrying out construction activity without a required building permit,” the letter read. “The placing of a metal sea container and extension of reinforced concrete on remaining government land. These activities are not in accordance with article 7 of the building ordinance. It is prohibited to erect a building structure without a building permit,” the letter stated.
It further said that the VROMI Minister can take legal measures within the law. “Your building activities cannot be legalized seeing that you are squatting on government land without proper authorization. A building permit is not possible. As a result, the illegal construction will have to be removed accordingly.
“On behalf of the Minister of VROMI, you are ordered to cease and desist from all building construction activities ongoing at the location of Soualiga Drive…, Pond Island, Philipsburg. You are further granted ten working days to remove your illegal building construction. All construction activities have to be stopped immediately after receipt of Building Stop/Removal Order. You are not able to submit a building permit application; the illegally-built structure will have to be removed.”
The correspondence further stated that failure to comply will result in legal measures in accordance with the building ordinance.