News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2007

Neighbors complain that they routinely see shade-tree mechanics repairing autos on the front and side lawns of this house at 1824 Seventh St. S.E.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Neighbors complain that they routinely see shade-tree mechanics repairing autos on the front and side lawns of this house at 1824 Seventh St. S.E.

Complaints pile up for landlord
Multiple-home owner repeatedly appears in residents’ reports of neighborhood blight

By Chris Paschenko · 340-2442

Decatur doesn’t have a top-10 list of residential property owners who routinely thumb their noses at the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance.

The city’s Community Development Department, which enforces the ordinance, tracks complaints by address and not by name, said David Lee, a code-enforcement officer with the department.

The Daily has received nearly 100 complaints from residents, who are tired of living next to blight-stricken homes and properties ripe with weeds, junk and litter. Many of the residents don’t know the homeowners or tenants, and want the city to remedy problem areas to protect property values.

The Daily responded, publishing 18 “Hiding in plain sight” articles since mid-April that address neighborhood blight, who owns the property and whether the city is aware of the situation.

A public-records search of problem properties revealed six names that own multiple homes.

But Lee said those who own multiple homes aren’t more likely to be repeat offenders of the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance.

Only one property owner appeared on The Daily’s problem-property list more than once: Ann Terry Mayfield, daughter of the late Joe Terry, who owned or had partial interest in about 60 homes listed among his estate.

Property records list 39 properties under Mayfield’s name. One of the homes, at 1824 Seventh St. S.E., is more than an eyesore, a nearby resident said. Shade-tree mechanics can be seen repairing cars on a routine basis on the front or side lawns.

Ronne Harvell, city revenue supervisor, said license inspector Sal Jasso made contact with the tenant, and determined he wasn’t running a business from the residence.

“Sal asked point-blank about working on cars there, and he said he was working on his son’s car,” Harvell said. “They’re replacing the engine on it and offered to give Sal the tag number so he could run it if he wanted to.”

Jimmy Brothers, director of the city’s Building Department, said Decatur’s zoning ordinance prohibits minor or major vehicle repair on residential lots.

“The zoning ordinance does not distinguish between working on cars for remuneration,” Brothers said. “It’s not a permitted use, period.”

Lee said the city has an active notice on the property through Community Development for the accumulation of auto parts, tires, wheels, scrap appliances, building materials and the exterior storage of inoperable motor vehicles.

The list of complaints made to The Daily on Mayfield’s properties continues.

Vernon and Jody Long said they’ve lived near one problem home at 2207 Burningtree Drive S.E. for 18 years.

Mayfield owns the home, which sits on the third hole of Burningtree Country Club. It has no mailbox, the front doors are covered with ivy and the house is stuffed full of furniture.

“The last two years they’ve been cutting the grass,” Vernon Long said. “It’s been vacant since we moved here in July of 1989.”

Others have complained about Mayfield’s homes at 811 and 1002 Seventh Ave. S.E., saying the structures are nothing more than storage facilities. The house at 811 Seventh Ave. is on the city’s radar, Lee said. It has structural concerns, he said.

The city’s zoning ordinance also prohibits using homes only as storage units, Brothers said.

The Daily found Mayfield’s home on Somerville Road Southeast. The grass was high in places and piles of brick and dirt line the property.

Although no one has complained to The Daily about the home, the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance prohibits building materials from being stored within plain view of a public right of way and also restricts non-ornamental grass or weeds more than 12 inches tall.

Robert Mayfield spoke to The Daily on behalf of his wife of 20 years, who was ill, he said. He is aware of some of the issues with their rental properties. He keeps the brick stored in his yard because his wife likes to make pathways with it, he said.

“We’re trying to sell the houses,” Mayfield said. “But it takes time and money.”

Mayfield said he has had trouble hiring reliable yardmen to maintain the grass. He tries to cut the overgrown weeds when hired help doesn’t arrive, he said.

Michelle Jordan, director of Community Development, said 33 percent of Decatur dwellings, or 7,901 homes, are rentals, and the majority of citations for the weed, junk and litter ordinance involve rental properties.

The city is exploring a measure that would require residential landlords to obtain business licenses or register their properties to provide contact information beyond a post-office box.

Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said requiring property owners to register their rental homes would make it easier for the city to contact responsible parties when violations exist. The city’s only contact with many local and out-of-state property owners is a post-office box.

“It’s not about the license fee that’s generated as much as the license information that is generated,” Kyle said. “We’ve got property owners out of state, and citations aren’t likely to be answered through the mail before the time period has elapsed.”

Meanwhile, the city continues to address blight when it’s reported or observed by inspectors, councilmen or employees.

Lee said in April the city delivered 411 notices to property owners, concerning the weed, junk and litter ordinance. Most of the blight issues were resolved, he said.

“We issued 15 court summonses, and starting from April 1 we issued 13 proceed orders where contractors mowed the property,” Lee said. “The rest were brought into compliance. ... Those who own a large number of properties, their name doesn’t come up as much as one might anticipate it would.”

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