498 Decatur sites held by landlords outside Alabama
By Chris Paschenko
Out-of-state landlords own 498 properties in Decatur, and some prove hard to find if their lots become a weed, junk or litter nuisance.
Mayor Don Kyle said finding the landowners would be easier for city inspectors if those who owned residential rental properties were required to register their contact information with the city.
David Lee, a code-enforcement officer with the city’s Community Development Department, said he has had trouble locating long-distance landlords to notify them their property is in violation.
Owners from Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and California represent the majority of the 237 “improved“ properties in Decatur owned by out-of-state landlords. Those 237 properties are lots with a variety of dwellings on them, according to tax-statement records compiled by the Morgan County revenue office.
There are 261 unimproved properties owned by people from outside Alabama, records show.
Kyle said the best way to obtain contact information would be to require residential landlords to register their properties similar to the city’s alarm registration program.
Kyle said many of the out-of-towners pay local property managers to maintain the land.
“It would allow the city to deal with the owner or property manager instead of the (tenant) in order to lodge a complaint,” Kyle said. “That’s what you pay a manager for, and if it isn’t taken care of, you give the local manager an opportunity to straighten it out before the investor gets upset about it.”
One out-of-state landlord found owning property isn’t always an attractive business proposition.
Alexandre Djolakian of Los Angeles owns an apartment complex in Decatur on Graymont Lane Southwest.
“I bought it for an investment, and I’m losing money on the property,” Djolakian said. “I’m probably going to sell it, but I would prefer not to register with the city.”
Kyle said investors believe they can make money on a property after assuming the mortgage, “but that’s not always the case.”
Other out-of-state owners inherited their land. Donald Brooking of Dallas owns about 30 mostly undeveloped acres in Northwest Decatur, which he said he inherited when his wife died a few years ago.
Decatur resident William Foster, 62, complained to The Daily, saying Brooking’s property near his neighborhood is overgrown with grass 4 feet high.
“I used to play football there when I was young,” Foster said. “People used to bale hay out of it for cows.”
Brooking said he has a local property manager who mows the improved property. Brooking said he has no plans to develop the land, which is zoned for multifamily dwellings and a manufacturing lot.
“My agent, Judy Looney, her husband was the caretaker for a long time, but he passed away a few years ago,” Brooking said. “One guy used to (cut the grass) for hay. I’m keeping the property, partly for sentimental value and a little income.”
Lee said Brooking’s property has been in the same state of nature since he can remember. A property that is in a state of nature, or natural condition, is exempt from the city’s requirement to remove weeds or tall grass.
“I would say based on past experience, it would be my interpretation that it is in a natural condition,” Lee said. “In all the years I’ve been with the city, it’s looked just like it has.”
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