Some code enforcers say they don't have the means to do their jobs - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by: Aaron Diamant 2/05/04 9:36PM

Some code enforcers say they don't have the means to do their jobs

In Memphis there are pages and pages of codes. Holding property owners to certain standards. Our Target Five Investigation found when it comes to rental properties, some of the city's top code enforcers feel they don't have the tools to do their job.

The bottom line: by law Code Enforcement officials can only go so far to bring a landlord in line. And inspectors seemingly stubborn landlords combined with what some say are weak laws can make for a very frustrating situation for inspectors. A workman's screaming circular saw means Vernon Jones, who owns the Mississippi Court Apartments in South Memphis is finally fixing up the place.

An inspection by Code Enforcement a few days earlier found people living with broken heaters, exposed wires, leaky pipes and giant holes in their ceilings.

"We're pretty strong armed about it," Code Enforcement Inspector Tony Newsome said. "If we say get it done by this particular date and time than that's what we mean."

If Jones doesn't finish the repairs, he could wind up before the Shelby County Environmental Court and Judge Larry Potter. "I want to see action," says Potter.

"I want to see someone being responsible." But Johnnie McKay, the City's top code enforcer, says for years many landlords have gotten away with not being responsible, because the law doesn't have teeth. "Because of that we find ourselves having to revisit their sites on many occasions," McKay said. Rental Properties like those owned by Charles Faithful.

According to records, Code Enforcement has taken him to court at least 20 times over the last eight years. He owns several now-vacant duplexes on Walnut Grove near North Greer. Back in July, Code Enforcement cited Faithful for not boarding up one of the Duplexes as required by law after several failed reinspections. By December, nearly five months later, Faithful, pleaded guilty in court to not securing the duplex.

By the end of January, we found the place still not properly secured. And it's not just that one property. Even though he's been cited before, we found one on North Holmes, pretty much wide open along with about a half dozen other vacant rental properties owned by Charles Faithful.

We went looking for Faithful at his East Memphis Home, where we couldn't find him, but we eventually did get Faithful on the phone. He told us a medical condition keeps him from keeping up his rental properties. Limited because each case stands alone.

The law allows property owners a certain amount of time to get back into compliance, regardless if they've been cited for the same violation in the past. And even if a case goes to court, the maximum fine for each offense is just 50 bucks plus costs. That's all assuming code enforcement catches violations in the first place.

There's limited manpower, too: just 34 inspectors serving an area with more than a million people. And unless the laws get tougher, there's little Code Enforcement can do to stop habitual offenders except write more citations and hope they get the message. Like Vernon Jones who says he now plans to work with Code Enforcement and should have all apartments in Mississippi Court complex up to code within the next few weeks.

Code Enforcement officials say the only way to make sure every landlord takes department demands seriously is putting tougher laws on the books.

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