Neighborhood housing still has problems
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An unusually large amount of garbage was piled outside some properties on Charleston's East End Tuesday, and City Councilman Robert Sheets saw that as a positive sign.
He thinks the recent shuttering of the building at 1411 Jackson St. has been a sort of wakeup call in his neighborhood.
Tuesday was garbage day, and Sheets thought the trash was an indication several landlords were working to clean up their properties.
"This situation has caused some concern among the other slumlords in the area," Sheets said.
He said some of the properties had trash stacked "property line to property line." He saw old refrigerators hauled out of one dilapidated home and a load of lumber delivered to another.
"You could hear hammers going to town over there all day," he said.
Sheets, who has lived in the East End most of his 62 years, has seen a lot of changes take place in the eclectic neighborhood.
And although he believes the housing stock has been upgraded, he still considers several properties to be slums.
"There are still a lot of problems in this area," Sheets said.
The issue recently was thrust into the limelight when authorities closed a structure at 1411 Jackson St. Inspectors discovered unlivable conditions in the building, which was divided into seven apartments.
At least 15 people had to relocate, and the landlord, Timothy Harold Stone, 44, of Charleston, was arrested after he allegedly pulled a screwdriver on officers.
The residence has not been officially condemned, and Stone has 21 days to correct the numerous code violations, Charleston Building Commissioner Tony Harmon said.
It wasn't clear if he would be able to meet that deadline. As of Wednesday afternoon, Stone remained in South Central Regional Jail on $150,000 bond.
Stone owns a garage building with four apartments on the upper level behind 1411 Jackson St. that remains open. The unit was inspected and no problems were found, Harmon said.
Sheets believes many of the "bad landlords" have properties in the East End. In fact, he has a problem building very close to his home on Jackson Street, he said.
"There are several rental units in this building close to me," he said. "It's been a problem house over the years."
He said another home divided into multiple rental units a few doors away from him also has caused problems.
He keeps a close eye on the properties and reports problems as he sees them.
"We keep after them," he said. "I work with the police department in trying to get rid of these problems."
Dealing with questionable property owners is not an easy task, Harmon said. Building inspectors cannot go into properties without the permission of the tenants or the landlord.
An inspector attempted to gain access to the building at 1411 Jackson St. on at least one occasion in 2010 but was turned away by the tenants, Harmon said.
A complaint prompted the inspection last week.
"We walk a fine line when it comes to enforcement," Harmon said. "We don't want to barge into people's homes, and they don't want us barging in."
Harmon said most of the city's landlords are responsible, and the quality of the housing stock has been upgraded over the past few years.
"I've seen a lot worse than this in my 20 years here," he said.
He said the Building Commission doesn't have "on the radar" any structures as bad as the one at 1411 Jackson St.
Most of the city's poorly kept homes are on the West Side and East End, Harmon said.
"We have more problems on the West Side than we do on the East End," he said. "But we have little patches of places that have issues all over the city."
The Rev. James Ealy, a Democratic councilman who represents a flat section of the West Side, agreed with Harmon that there were some problem homes and apartments in his ward. However, like Ealy and Sheets, he sees improvement.
"Things are getting a lot better, but it's still a problem," he said.
The high number of rental units and aging buildings contributes to the problem, Harmon said. Ealy believes another issue is landlords unwilling to spend money on repairs.
"The real bad guys are only concerned about making a dollar," Ealy said. "But I don't think there are that many of them anymore."
Like Sheets, Ealy tries to keep on eye on properties around his ward.
"We try to deal with the issues as we see them," he said.
Ealy first tries to talk to the landlords themselves to encourage them to clean up their property, he said. If that fails, he calls the building inspector.
Both Ealy and Sheets believe the approximately 2 1/2-year-old rental property registration requirement will help the city clean up problem properties.
"I think it has made a difference in this area," Ealy said.
Mayor Danny Jones said the law would help officials stay abreast of problems.
"We'll still have bad landlords, and we'll still have marginal landlords," Jones said. "But we'll have to stay on them."
Stone's property had been entered into the property registration database, Harmon said. However, he had only six of the seven units on the property registered.