Home Sales Fell Slightly in April, Prices Rising Wednesday, Jun 3 2020 

In the first full month of COVID-19 restrictions, the housing market in Kentucky slowed, but by no means did it stop.

The number of homes sold dropped 12.5 percent. While that’s significant, it’s much less than some believe it could have been. National experts have predicted an overall drop for 2020 of 10 percent, according to the Kentucky Realtors.

In Louisville, the drop from 2019 to 2020 was just 10.3 percent, with the average sales price jumping 5.6 percent to $236,368. However, the number of active listings was down 15.6 percent from a year ago.

The conclusion — low inventory brings higher prices.

Nationally, existing-home sales fell 17.8 percent, the largest drop in home sales nationally since July 2010.

“The economic lockdowns – occurring from mid-March through April in most states – have temporarily disrupted home sales.  But the listings that are on the market are still attracting buyers and boosting home prices. Record-low mortgage rates are likely to remain in place for the rest of the year and will be the key factor driving housing demand as state economies steadily reopen.” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Average sale prices in Kentucky rose 8.4 percent to $212,361. Overall sales volume dropped just 5.1 percent.

“Buyers have not relaxed much during the pandemic shutdowns and the demand remains”, said Lester T. Sanders, President of Kentucky REALTORS®. “Some sellers have been cautious and waited to list homes. But, creative strategies, such as distancing, sanitizing, and virtual showings have allowed Kentuckians to keep homes on the market and still get top dollar.”

Inventory remains a concern, as the level fell again to 3.28 months (the amount of time it would take to sell available inventory).

 

 

 

Louisville Landlord Sued Over Late Fees, Eviction Threat Wednesday, May 13 2020 

A Louisville landlord that charged a tenant late fees after she failed to pay rent in April is being sued in Jefferson Circuit Court.

The Kentucky Equal Justice Center filed the suit this week, alleging Summerfield Realty LLC engaged in unfair, false, misleading and deceptive practices after  charging a $91 late fee onto the account of Katrice Gill and threatening Gill with eviction.

Gill, in an interview with KyCIR last month, said she was unable to pay her rent due to the pandemic. With her four kids at home, she’d been unable to work her job as a home health aide. Gill said she’d attempted to contact her landlord to work out a deal, but got no response.

The Kentucky Equal Justice Center alleges Summerfield Realty LLC violated stipulations set forth in the federal CARES Act, which prohibits landlords that participate in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s voucher program from charging late fees, and the company threatened eviction when, in fact, state officials have instituted a moratorium on all evictions.

The class action suit seeks the return of any late fees collected by Summerfield Realty LLC, as well as a court order “requiring the landlord to reverse its unlawful charges and correct its misinformation, along with actual damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.”

In Public Housing, Few Masks and ‘Petri Dish’ Common Areas Tuesday, May 5 2020 

Michelle Hanks/KyCIR

Dosker Manor on June 4, 2018. The apartments are across the street from the University of Louisville Hospital.

As the weather warms, Juan Garcia wants to get outside and ride his bicycle in the sun. But instead, he spends most of his time inside his apartment on the sixth floor of the Dosker Manor public housing complex.

Garcia, 73, said venturing out of his apartment is too risky. He has no mask or gloves to protect himself from the coronavirus in the common areas of the housing complex, where the halls are dingy and elevators are often packed with other residents. He says it can feel like a petri dish.

“I stay in my apartment,” he said. “It’s safer.”

But there, Garcia battles constantly with roaches, bedbugs, and the pigeons that roost on his balcony. His air conditioner often peters out after a few minutes.

For Garcia, the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare a quandary that comes with living in public housing: staying home and avoiding the risk of infection, as government officials urge, means dealing with a crowded, antiquated high rise plagued with maintenance issues and infestations. 

About a quarter of the city’s 4,000 public housing residents live in high-rise style complexes. About 640 people live in Dosker Manor, a three-building complex that sits just east of downtown Louisville on Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Nearly all residents at Dosker Manor are elderly or disabled, putting them at higher risk of complications if they contract the sometimes deadly COVID-19 disease.

Some residents at Dosker Manor said they’d heard someone at the complex tested positive, but many chalked it up to a rumor. The city’s housing authority refused to confirm if any residents living in public housing have tested positive for the disease. 

“Out of respect for… our residents’ privacy we do not make it a habit to ask about their personal medical circumstances,” said Courtney Lewis, a spokesperson for the Louisville Metro Housing Authority.

Lewis said tenants are not obligated to share medical information. A spokesperson for the city’s health department did not respond to an emailed question about whether the agency would alert the housing authority if a resident tested positive.

Across the country, public housing complexes are uniquely vulnerable for an outbreak of infectious disease, said Susan J. Popkin, a fellow at the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research nonprofit based in Washington D.C. Residents of public housing are often elderly, and they share common spaces like hallways, elevators and laundry rooms. 

For the agencies, the pandemic has only added pressure on a system that’s strained by deferred maintenance, dated buildings and decades of disinvestment, Popkin said. 

Popkin added that the pivot to remote work also left many public housing agencies scrambling to equip employees with the tools needed to stay connected and, more simply, to keep their employees safe and healthy during the pandemic.

“They’re really trying,” she said. “It’s just tough.”

Lisa Osanka, the executive director of the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, was not available for an interview for this story, Lewis said.

To date, $3.7 million has been made available to the Louisville Metro Housing Authority to spend on COVID-19 related expenses through the federal CARES Act, which Lewis said will be used “to keep our residents healthy at home and our staff healthy,” but she provided no specific details about how the funds will be spent.

Popkin of the Urban Institute said agencies should use the newly awarded federal funds to purchase protective equipment and cleaning supplies for staff and residents, and buy equipment that can help agencies maintain operations while working remotely. The funds can also help offset drops in rent revenue that results from the downturned economy during the pandemic, she said.

Anything they can do to get services for residents,” Popkin said. “And food, that’s really important right now.”

The agency spokesperson said the housing authority partners with local nonprofits to help get food to residents.

Garcia knows many residents at the complex that struggle to afford wholesome food. He’s even known some to resort to eating cat food.

“It’s horrible,” he said.

Garcia came to Louisville in 1971 for a job doing iron work at McAlpine Locks and Dam. The pay was better than in Texas, and he liked the river that snaked by the city, so he stayed. His three sons have moved away, but he takes care of himself. He hops a bus for errands, and he knows a guy with an extra mask.

“I think he’s going to give it to me, for $5,” Garcia said. “I can dish out $5 for a mask.”

When Garcia does venture out of his apartment for a trip to the doctor or store, he notices the flyers and signs posted near elevators and mailboxes informing residents about the virus and offering tips on how to stay safe.

But not all residents seem to heed the warnings, he said.

“Everyone knows what time the mail comes and they all go check it at the same time,” he said. “They’re down there bumping right into each other.”

And not everyone wears a mask, he said. But he doesn’t fault residents for that.

“A lot of people here don’t have money for face masks or gloves,” he said.

He thinks the housing authority should provide personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to residents.

Lewis, the spokesperson, said the agency is working to do that, but “like most agencies sourcing these items in the quantity needed is taking some time.”

The agency is also working “seven days a week” to clean and sanitize stairwells, elevators, lobbies and laundry rooms, she said. Each weekday two staffers are tasked with cleaning buildings “from top to bottom.” Maintenance crews are responding to emergency calls only, which frees up time to “ensure a safe and sanitized environment for all residents and staff.”

Public housing complexes are often plagued with maintenance issues, as detailed in complaints from residents. Dosker Manor usually tops the list for issues.

In 2019, residents at Dosker Manor submitted more than 4,100 work orders for repairs ranging from leaky faucets, busted pipes, loose doorknobs, broken elevators and bugs or mice.

Now, many complaints will likely go unanswered; due to the pandemic, maintenance crews are only responding to emergency calls.

Mary Surrell, a Dosker Manor resident, said trash seems to be piling up in dumpsters and hallways as the pandemic rages on. She said the entire building just feels dirty, and that’s enough to make her worried about being infected with the COVID-19 virus. She’s scared to ride the elevator, she tries not to touch anything.

“I don’t feel safe in here,” she said.

And, she’s lonely. 

The housing authority has restricted visitation to medical providers, delivery services and people helping new residents move in, according to documents provided by the housing authority. For Surrell, this means no visits from her daughter and grandchildren, something she looks forward to.

“This virus has shut everything down,” she said. “I just stay in my apartment.”

Chesney Pleasants does, too. But she’s not too worried about the virus. In fact, she’s long expected a pandemic — people are too dirty and careless and crowded together, she said.

The crowded elevators don’t bother her. Pleasants said if she sees a crowd, she’ll wait, or take the stairs. She commends the housing authority for doing what they can to abate the virus, but she doesn’t expect much. 

Let’s be practical,” she said. “This is a disaster …. I think they are doing as much as they can.”

Pleasants said people just need to wash their hands, wear their masks, and stay inside.

“Use your brain,” she said. 

Juan Garcia plans to.

“I made it to 73, and I’m no fool,” Garcia said. 

He plans to continue his precautions even after a semblance of normalcy resumes —  he says he’ll keeping wearing his mask, and looking for some gloves, too.

What he misses most, though, is church. He attends a Catholic church a few blocks away, and was sad to see it close. He went once to a drive-in service, but he doesn’t have a car. It was cold outside, and he didn’t like standing alone.

So, he stays in his apartment and on Sunday, he turns on the radio and listens to the service.

The post In Public Housing, Few Masks and ‘Petri Dish’ Common Areas appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Make this year’s dorm a home away from home Sunday, Apr 26 2020 

By Delaney Hildreth–

As the new semester comes closer, students who will be living on-campus for the year will start planning what they’ll take with them to their dorms in August. Campus Housing has a list of recommended items on their website, but to help newcomers to dorm living, here are some additional things that will make any dorm more inviting and functional.

  One of the most important aspects to prepare for is how much space in the dorm there is to work with, which only gets more complicated when adding a roommate to the mix.

“Dorm rooms don’t typically offer a lot of space, so you have to get creative to make room for all of your belongings,” BusinessInsider.com aptly said. The site offers solutions like plastic drawers to go under beds and over-the-door pocket organizers to maximize storage potential.

They also point out, “You don’t get much space in dorm rooms, so any multi-purpose items are great for capitalizing on what you actually do have.” They recommend items like desk lamps that include USB outlets or laundry hampers that have pockets for laundry supplies.

There are a lot of items that get left behind or overlooked in the hustle of moving in, but these are often the most crucial in dorm living.

Incoming sophomore Dayna Thomas experienced this when moving in last year. “I didn’t have a mattress topper for my bed at first. After a few weeks of sleeping on the dorm provided mattress, I quickly realized why everyone else had mattress toppers and then went and got one for myself,” Thomas said.

Things like trash cans, paper towels, power strips, and dishes are items typically taken for granted, but nonetheless important, especially in a dorm setting where students will spend a lot of their time.

Thomas also said, “One of the most critical things to keep in your dorm is snacks. When everything else on campus is closer and you just need something to get you by, having some snacks on hand in your dorm is a life saver!”

Finally, bring cozy, homey items like rugs, extra pillows, and wall decorations. Dorms are only equipped with the bare necessities, but transforming the room with a few decorative items are sure to turn any dorm into a cozy living space for the year.

These items, while not as functional as the other things mentioned here, are what will make dorm life much more comfortable and satisfactory to take the edge off living in a new location by making it feel more like home.

File photo//The Louisville Cardinal

The post Make this year’s dorm a home away from home appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

Though Evictions Are Paused, Late Fees Accrue For Some Renters Tuesday, Apr 21 2020 

When the first of the month came, Katrice Gill couldn’t make rent.

The part-time, in-home health aide and single mother usually has no trouble paying the $200 monthly contribution to her Section 8 subsidized rent, plus utilities. But with schools closed, she’s home with her four young kids, and the grocery bill has ballooned. 

Gill, 32, said she tried to call her landlord, but didn’t get a call back. Then, on April 7, the landlord sent an email with the subject line in all caps: PAST DUE NOTICE. 

With the message came an added charge: she was assessed a late fee of $91, nearly 45 percent of what she usually pays in rent.

“I’m just really stressed out,” she said. “It’s unbearable. You just don’t know what’s going to come next.”

Gill does know she can’t be evicted right now. Gov. Andy Beshear last month ordered an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic, and court officials have suspended all eviction court proceedings until later this summer. But those orders don’t prevent late fees from piling up. What’s resulted is a new paradigm in the relationship between landlords and tenants: landlords have lost their tried and true enforcement mechanisms as many tenants can’t pay.

The late fees will increase the financial burden for renters who fell behind on payments and will face steep costs to stave off eviction when the pandemic ends. Roy Berwick, an attorney with Legal Aid, expects eviction courts to be flooded when the pandemic ends.

“It’s going to be a mess,” he said. “Back to back to back.”

Kentucky could see a surge of evictions after the moratorium expires because, so far, state leaders have not taken action regarding the accumulation of rental debt during the pandemic, according to an examination by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab of state-level COVID-19 responses. Last week, the Louisville Metro Council approved a measure that will allow Mayor Greg Fischer to spend $500,000 on rental assistance for local renters. The funds will be reserved for people earning up to 50 percent of the area median income.

Louisville landlords reported delinquency rates of about 25 percent in April, meaning a quarter of their tenants did not pay their April rent in full, said JD Carey, executive director of the Louisville Apartment Association. This is about five times higher than a year ago, Carey said, and he expects delinquency to worsen next month.

Roy Berwick, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said late fees are commonly used as a tool to entice tenants to pay up or pressure them to move out without the hassle of going to court.

“You’d think there would be some leniency during this pandemic,” he said.

The federal government is beginning to deliver promised stimulus checks, but experts say they’re just not enough to curtail the economic drop and stress that’ll stem from the pandemic.

Gill said she received her stimulus check. She didn’t use it to pay her late rent; instead, she bought groceries, and put the rest in savings. Without reliable income, she knows an unexpected cost can pop up at any time and she wants to be prepared.

“No one is ever going to get ahead,” she said. “We don’t want a lot of people going into survival mode, because that can be dangerous.”

‘Why would we want to add fees?’

Renters account for a third of the 1.7 million households in Kentucky, according to the U.S. Census. With many tenants out of work during the pandemic and struggling to pay the bills, landlords are taking a hit.

Carey, with the apartment association, hopes the influx of stimulus checks will help tenants be able to pay rents — which he stressed are still due, even though evictions are paused. But he is still recommending that landlords try to help tenants who are struggling to make the rent by waiving late fees and working out payment plans.

He believes most landlords are heeding that recommendation, and he encouraged tenants to stay in contact with their landlords if they are having financial difficulty.

“If they are struggling to get their rent paid, why would we want to add fees?” he asked. “The best practice is to work with your tenants.”

Tommy Floyd is doing just that. Floyd is the co-founder of the Denton Floyd Management Group, which manages about 3,800 units throughout the Louisville, Southern Indiana and Lexington area. 

Floyd said his company has nixed late fees during the pandemic and is telling tenants to pay what they can.

“We’re going to work through this and we don’t want people to have to worry about having a roof over their heads,” he said.

Floyd’s company is large enough that they can continue with operations even as delinquency rates rise. Not all landlords are as lucky, he said, and many depend on timely payments from tenants to make their own mortgages.

And even Floyd’s company could struggle if the economy stays dormant through the summer. The company is constructing about 600 units and they try to add about 1,000 new units each year. 

Some of these builds are financed with city-backed loans. As municipal revenues plummet, Floyd worries what that could mean for already low housing stocks.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “We’re taking it week by week.”

During Moratorium, Debt Accumulates

Gill moved into her home along the southside of the California neighborhood about three years ago, after being displaced from the Beecher Terrace public housing complex.

“I wish everyday I was back in Beecher,” she said. There, despite the complex’s troubled reputation, maintenance was more dependable and she felt safer taking her kids outside to play.

With her kids home from school, Gill is thankful for the added family time and the ability to provide them more hands-on instruction. But she worries about the months ahead —  if the rent and late fees keep piling up, she is afraid of being evicted when the moratorium lifts. 

When the pandemic ends and courts resume, Berwick said judges will likely not enforce any late fees being levied against tenants. But failure to pay is reason for removal, and judges are required to uphold the law.

He and other advocates stress that tenants should keep paying their rent, if they can. If they cannot, stay in contact with your landlord. With few exceptions, evictions are not allowed under the current moratorium. A handful of Kentucky landlords have sought to evict tenants through a waiver offered by state officials, but those evictions are limited to situations involving allegations of dangerous criminal activity or threats to public health. Any other attempt to evict a tenant is illegal, and Berwick said tenants experiencing such should call the police.

Berwick expects most landlords understand or at least accept the need for a moratorium. 

He said when late fees are added, they’re usually small daily charges, rather than the large, lump fee Gill received.

An employee with the company that manages Gill’s property, who declined to give her name, said the late fees are automatically charged on accounts that are past due. Due to the pandemic, the fees will be removed once rent is paid in full, she said.

For many tenants, though, it’s not clear just when that will be — or how high the bills will get.

Gill knows landlords depend on rents to survive, but she said she pays on time every month and was angry to see the late fee added on to her bill. Now, her anxiety keeps her up at night. Her friends have noticed the change in her mood. Stress encompasses her.

“What are we supposed to do?” she said. “Everyone is suffering.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

It’s The First Of The Month. What If You Can’t Make Rent? Wednesday, Apr 1 2020 

It’s the first of the month and the rent is due for thousands of families in Kentucky.

Many, though, may struggle to pay that bill this month. The spreading COVID-19 pandemic has led to the shuttering of scores of business, sparking layoffs and furloughs.

Renters make up about 33 percent of Kentucky’s 1.7 million households, according to data from the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. The rate is slightly higher in Jefferson County, where renters account for about 38 percent of households. The median rent in Jefferson County was $800 in 2018.

Government response to the coronavirus is providing some protections for people who may be at risk of missing a rent payment. The Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice issued an order last month delaying all eviction cases. Gov. Andy Beshear ordered last week suspending all evictions in Kentucky. And last week federal lawmakers passed the CARES Act, which prohibits landlords that participate in certain federally backed housing programs from filing an eviction.

On Wednesday, a new Supreme Court order went a step further and said courts will not accept new eviction filings at all until at least mid-May.

None of these actions relieve a renter from their responsibility to pay their rent when it is due. In fact, the governor’s order makes clear that rent must still be paid.

“If you can pay rent, pay rent,” said Ben Carter, the senior litigation and advocacy counsel for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

But Carter suspects many will not be able to pay their rent.

The pandemic has led government officials to force many businesses to close and it has dealt a troubling blow to the nation’s economy. For those that cannot pay, Carter said they should be transparent with their landlord and try to work out a payment plan.

“We expect many landlords will treat tenants fairly and with compassion in these truly extraordinary times,” Carter said.

Some, though, will not.

Carter said he has received reports of landlords attempting to illegally remove tenants during the pandemic.

An illegal eviction includes any attempt from a landlord to remove a tenant or their belongings from a property without a proper court order — this includes shutting off utilities, Carter said.

People who are subjected to an illegal eviction may be entitled a reward of up to three months rent and other fees, Carter said. He said anyone dealing with such an issue should attempt to document any interaction with their landlord and contact an attorney.

Despite Beshear’s moratorium on evictions, landlords could still file for eviction in court until Wednesday’s revision. In Jefferson County, nearly 400 evictions were filed since the Supreme Court delayed eviction case hearings, according to data provided by the Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk.

Any new filing will take months to be processed through court. Tenants who receive notice that their landlord is beginning eviction proceedings should not let fear cause them to move out, said Stewart Pope, advocacy director for the Legal Aid Society of Louisville.

Pope stressed that all eviction orders are currently suspended due to the governor’s order.

“Tenants should immediately call the police if someone arrives to set them out,” he said.

Carter believes that any landlord threatening eviction during the pandemic is just trying to intimidate a tenant into moving out.

“That’s just not what we need to be doing right now,” he said.

Instead, he encouraged any landlord feeling financial pressure to seek out forgivable loan programs and other government assistance.

“The important message I want renters to hear is if you cannot pay rent, don’t leave your house,” Carter said. “It’s just not safe for most people to be leaving their houses.”

Stay or leave? Students are being left up with that decision Friday, Mar 20 2020 

By Zoe Watkins–

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses and other public places are shutting down for safety and health reasons. This includes colleges as well, meaning the University of Louisville is partially closing their doors to students and adapting to help protect students from the virus.

Because of these new changes, many students are left with the decision of either staying on campus to finish out the rest of the semester or traveling back home to complete coursework there.

Among the students who have left campus, sophomore Roni Wolfe is choosing to stay at her house to help reduce the stress.

“I don’t have to leave my room to eat or get anything if I’m home. I have all of that stuff and I’m with my family,” Wolfe said.

She said that because of the decision to switch to online classes and still not knowing what to do until a professor emails with direction, she is a little stressed out and worried. However, she is glad she is home and that everyone is trying not to navigate onto campus where there is a chance of spreading the virus.

In the meantime, Wolfe is spending time with her family while also preparing for online classes.

“I’m mostly just making a list of what my professors want us to do and when so I can keep track and not have to spend all of my free time stressing about it if I forgot something,” she said.

However, there are still students who want to stay on campus in Louisville.

Even though senior Emily Yadon has seen many people packing up and leaving for the rest of the spring semester, she must stay along with the few people who are still on campus.

“Luckily, dining is open, so food is somewhat available at limited hours,” Yadon said. “I’m hoping they won’t close with restaurants being forced to close. If so, I will need to go home since I won’t have a good place to cook and have limited access to food.”

She said it is important to keep practicing isolation and social distancing even if its draining and not enjoyable. Yadon said it is to protect others especially the older generations and people who have underlying health conditions.

Even if it’s not fun having to be inside all day long, there are still many ways to pass the time.

“I’ve been spending time playing board games with a few of friends who are also on campus. That’s pretty entertaining and enjoyable and it doesn’t involve going out where there’s a lot of people,” Yadon said.

However, due to recent changes sent out to students by email, many will have to move out by March 29 unless they sign up to stay on campus.

If the plan is to move out of the dorms, remember to fill out the cancellation form on the housing portal and to fill out the express checkout form and turn them in along with the dorm’s key when leaving for the rest of the semester.

However, if a student is choosing to stay, remember to let housing know you will be staying by signing into the housing portal and requesting to stay on campus by March 27th.

File photo//The Louisville Cardinal

The post Stay or leave? Students are being left up with that decision appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

Louisville Changes Public Nuisance Enforcement After KyCIR Investigation Tuesday, Feb 25 2020 

Louisville officials say they will use discretion in issuing public nuisance violations and stop urging landlords to evict tenants in an effort to be less hostile and avoid punishing victims of crimes.

The changes come in response to a recent investigation by KyCIR that found police and code enforcement officers have labeled the homes of victims and offenders alike as nuisances — sometimes before they qualified as a nuisance under the city’s ordinance.

Property owners and their tenants face steep fines if they’re considered a public nuisance, and some landlords evicted tenants in response to nuisance violation letters from the city.

But now, city authorities will no longer notify homeowners that they are a nuisance after just one police incident, and they will stop encouraging property owners to evict tenants from nuisance properties. Code enforcement officers will also investigate further before starting a nuisance case after instances involving violent crime to evaluate the potential impact on victims.

“The story raised some good points,” said Thomas Nord, a spokesman for the Louisville Metro Department of Codes and Regulations. “There is now a heightened awareness of the situation.”

But more substantial changes, which would require action from the Louisville Metro Council, seem unlikely at least for now. Council members expanded the city’s public nuisance ordinance in recent years to include a broad list of qualifying crimes that include drug offenses, assaults and theft. Though council members have expressed concern about how the ordinance is enforced, none have held hearings or proposed changes.

KyCIR examined nearly three hundred nuisance case files spanning three years and found dozens stemmed from domestic violence or other violent crime. In some cases, grieving families were issued a nuisance violation notice days after the overdose death or murder of a loved one.

Robert Kirchdorfer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Codes and Regulations, said in December that he was unaware crime victims were being targeted or affected by nuisance enforcement. He sought changes to the enforcement process days after being interviewed by a KyCIR reporter, according to emails obtained through an open records request.

Alexandra Kanik | wfpl.org

City officials have changed the way they enforce public nuisance laws in the wake of a KyCIR investigation. One key change: they are no longer deeming properties a public nuisance after just one police visit.

Last week, city attorneys finalized a revised notice letter that will be sent to owners of properties deemed a public nuisance. These letters are the first alert that a property is the subject of a nuisance case, and they can serve as the jumping-off point for a whirlwind of ramifications and stress for owners and tenants.

The new letters are drastically different than the letters that have been issued for the past three years. Most notably, the letters no longer indicate a property is a public nuisance after just one police-related incident; the ordinance requires at least two.

The revised letters make clear the property isn’t a nuisance yet, and won’t be unless another police-related incident occurs.

Though codes officials claimed in earlier interviews that the letters were only a warning, that wasn’t clear to property owners who were informed their only defense to the violation was eviction and they faced criminal fines up to $1,000 a day.

There is no longer any mention of eviction or threat of $1,000 fines.

Alexandra Kanik

The old letters encouraged landlords to evict tenants as a defense to the violation, and a way to avoid fines. The new letter won’t mention eviction.

The amended letters are “less hostile,” said Nord, the spokesman. He said it’s not up to city officials to inform landlords about their eviction options.

To be sure, property owners are still subject to fines, and eviction is still a defense under the ordinance. Changing that would require action from the Louisville Metro Council.

The new letters urge owners to take necessary action to prevent properties from becoming or remaining a nuisance, offering a gentle reminder that their property is an “important investment for you and the community at large.”

“That was our intention with the [original letter],” Kirchdorfer said in an interview last week. “We’re always trying to improve the process to make things more clear to folks.”

Kirchdorfer said he wants to avoid saddling crime victims with the penalties that come with a public nuisance violation, but there’s no quick-fix to address the complexities that come with enforcing a broad law like the nuisance ordinance.

“We definitely don’t want to go in there and escalate a situation,” he said. “We’re going to look at the big picture… we’re never trying to encourage eviction.”

Code officials will review each case individually and use more discretion from now on when they get a request from police to open a public nuisance case, Kirchdorfer said.

The Louisville Metro Police Department has made no changes related to the public nuisance enforcement, according to Jessie Halladay, department spokesperson.

She said the agency is working to ensure officers are aware of the changes implemented by the Department of Codes and Regulations.

“We continue to work with codes as we refine the process of how we work together,” she said in an emailed statement. “We are always open to changes that improve the process.”

Crimes that involve domestic violence still qualify a property as a public nuisance, and Kirchdorfer would not say if he supports a blanket exemption for domestic violence cases.

Council members were incensed to hear victims were being labeled a nuisance, but so far, they’ve taken no action to change the ordinance.

Councilwoman Jessica Green said in December that the manner of how the nuisance law was being applied was “a travesty” and “utterly sickening.”

Green, chair of the council’s public safety committee, said that the ordinance was intended to help bust up drug dens and troublesome businesses not residential properties.

Green did not respond to multiple requests for another interview.

Louisville Metro Council president David James said he assumed the intent of the ordinance was clear: crack down on problematic businesses and drug houses. He said the issues uncovered by KyCIR surrounding public nuisance enforcement warrant a full review of the ordinance.

“We need to look at the whole thing and make sure we don’t have any unintended consequences with this ordinance,” he said. “I think we can do better.”

It’s not clear when the council will review the ordinance, however. James said that’s up to Green.

Louisville Changes Public Nuisance Enforcement After KyCIR Investigation Tuesday, Feb 25 2020 

Alexandra Kanik

City officials have changed the way they enforce public nuisance laws in the wake of a KyCIR investigation. One key change: they are no longer deeming properties a public nuisance after just one police visit.

Louisville officials say they will use discretion in issuing public nuisance violations and stop urging landlords to evict tenants in an effort to be less hostile and avoid punishing victims of crimes.

The changes come in response to a recent investigation by KyCIR that found police and code enforcement officers have labeled the homes of victims and offenders alike as nuisances — sometimes before they qualified as a nuisance under the city’s ordinance.

Property owners and their tenants face steep fines if they’re considered a public nuisance, and some landlords evicted tenants in response to nuisance violation letters from the city.

But now, city authorities will no longer notify homeowners that they are a nuisance after just one police incident, and they will stop encouraging property owners to evict tenants from nuisance properties. Code enforcement officers will also investigate further before starting a nuisance case after instances involving violent crime to evaluate the potential impact on victims.

“The story raised some good points,” said Thomas Nord, a spokesman for the Louisville Metro Department of Codes and Regulations. “There is now a heightened awareness of the situation.”

Alexandra Kanik

The new letter is merely a notice, while previously, owners received letters informing them a violation has occurred.

But more substantial changes, which would require action from the Louisville Metro Council, seem unlikely at least for now. Council members expanded the city’s public nuisance ordinance in recent years to include a broad list of qualifying crimes that include drug offenses, assaults and theft. Though council members have expressed concern about how the ordinance is enforced, none have held hearings or proposed changes.

KyCIR examined nearly three hundred nuisance case files spanning three years and found dozens stemmed from domestic violence or other violent crime. In some cases, grieving families were issued a nuisance violation notice days after the overdose death or murder of a loved one.

Robert Kirchdorfer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Codes and Regulations, said in December that he was unaware crime victims were being targeted or affected by nuisance enforcement. He sought changes to the enforcement process days after being interviewed by a KyCIR reporter, according to emails obtained through an open records request.

Last week, city attorneys finalized a revised notice letter that will be sent to owners of properties deemed a public nuisance. These letters are the first alert that a property is the subject of a nuisance case, and they can serve as the jumping-off point for a whirlwind of ramifications and stress for owners and tenants.

The new letters are drastically different than the letters that have been issued for the past three years. Most notably, the letters no longer indicate a property is a public nuisance after just one police-related incident; the ordinance requires at least two.

The revised letters make clear the property isn’t a nuisance yet, and won’t be unless another police-related incident occurs.

Though codes officials claimed in earlier interviews that the letters were only a warning, that wasn’t clear to property owners who were informed their only defense to the violation was eviction and they faced criminal fines up to $1,000 a day.

Alexandra Kanik

The old letters encouraged landlords to evict tenants as a defense to the violation, and a way to avoid fines. The new letter won’t mention eviction.

There is no longer any mention of eviction or threat of $1,000 fines.

The amended letters are “less hostile,” said Nord, the spokesman. He said it’s not up to city officials to inform landlords about their eviction options.

To be sure, property owners are still subject to fines, and eviction is still a defense under the ordinance. Changing that would require action from the Louisville Metro Council.

The new letters urge owners to take necessary action to prevent properties from becoming or remaining a nuisance, offering a gentle reminder that their property is an “important investment for you and the community at large.”

“That was our intention with the [original letter],” Kirchdorfer said in an interview last week. “We’re always trying to improve the process to make things more clear to folks.”

Kirchdorfer said he wants to avoid saddling crime victims with the penalties that come with a public nuisance violation, but there’s no quick-fix to address the complexities that come with enforcing a broad law like the nuisance ordinance.

“We definitely don’t want to go in there and escalate a situation,” he said. “We’re going to look at the big picture… we’re never trying to encourage eviction.”

Code officials will review each case individually and use more discretion from now on when they get a request from police to open a public nuisance case, Kirchdorfer said.

The Louisville Metro Police Department has made no changes related to the public nuisance enforcement, according to Jessie Halladay, department spokesperson.

She said the agency is working to ensure officers are aware of the changes implemented by the Department of Codes and Regulations.

“We continue to work with codes as we refine the process of how we work together,” she said in an emailed statement. “We are always open to changes that improve the process.”

Crimes that involve domestic violence still qualify a property as a public nuisance, and Kirchdorfer would not say if he supports a blanket exemption for domestic violence cases.

Council members were incensed to hear victims were being labeled a nuisance, but so far, they’ve taken no action to change the ordinance.

Councilwoman Jessica Green said in December that the manner of how the nuisance law was being applied was “a travesty” and “utterly sickening.”

Green, chair of the council’s public safety committee, said that the ordinance was intended to help bust up drug dens and troublesome businesses not residential properties.

Green did not respond to multiple requests for another interview.

Louisville Metro Council president David James said he assumed the intent of the ordinance was clear: crack down on problematic businesses and drug houses. He said the issues uncovered by KyCIR surrounding public nuisance enforcement warrant a full review of the ordinance.

“We need to look at the whole thing and make sure we don’t have any unintended consequences with this ordinance,” he said. “I think we can do better.”

It’s not clear when the council will review the ordinance, however. James said that’s up to Green.

Contact Jacob Ryan at (502) 814.6559 or jryan@kycir.org.

The post Louisville Changes Public Nuisance Enforcement After KyCIR Investigation appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

For Louisville Offenders And Victims Alike, A New Label: ‘Public Nuisance’ Wednesday, Dec 18 2019 

Jacob Ryan

Andrea Swain’s Shawnee home was deemed a nuisance after her 17-year-old son had people over while she was out of town, and someone fired a gun in her backyard.

A woman shot and killed in her grandmother’s Valley Station home. A man dead of a suspected overdose in his sister’s home in Pleasure Ridge Park. A woman who told police she was strangled to the point of losing consciousness after refusing to have sex with her ex-boyfriend, who she still lived with.

In each of these cases, Louisville Metro Police officers responded. And each time, they decided the home — where the domestic violence victim or grieving loved ones lived — ought to be deemed a “public nuisance.”

Louisville’s public nuisance ordinance is intended to provide a way to bust up drug houses and crime dens. But police and code enforcement officials have been increasingly focused on residential locations where crimes are reported — regardless of whether the victim or the offender lives there.

While some nuisance cases involve stereotypical drug houses where drugs are manufactured or sold in high quantities, many stem from simple possession of drugs, paraphernalia or low-level trafficking offenses, a KyCIR review of nearly three years worth of nuisance cases shows.

In at least three dozen cases since 2017, the nuisance cases have stemmed from domestic violence, often putting housing at risk for victims in addition to perpetrators.

For renters, this has huge ramifications: after LMPD asks Louisville Metro Department of Codes and Regulations to issue a nuisance violation, its office sends a registered letter to property owners. The letter says the property has been deemed a public nuisance, and offers a defense: evict the tenants within 75 days.

Codes and Regulations records

A portion of a violation issued in September 2019

If they don’t abate the issue, property owners face civil penalties starting at $400 and criminal fines as high as $1,000 a day, according to the letter.

The review shows that city agencies aren’t always following the terms of the ordinance, which requires two police interactions within a year before action is taken. Records show that, while city officials say the registered letter is just a warning, the code enforcement department is informing property owners the property has already been deemed a nuisance in that letter, and landlords are evicting tenants in response.

Department of Codes and Regulations

Portion of violation letter issued by Codes and Regulations

And the violations are issued seemingly randomly, given that the 200-plus violations issued this year don’t come close to the number of eligible police interactions in Louisville.

This is “utterly sickening,” said Councilwoman Jessica Green, a Democrat who represents District 1 in west Louisville.

Green voted for expanding the ordinance in both 2017 and 2018. She said she thought the ordinance was intended to go after businesses, and she had no idea how it’s been implemented.

“The application of this goes beyond decency and really common sense,” Green said. “This is a travesty, a real travesty.”

Officials from code enforcement and LMPD both said they’d examine how their enforcement is affecting victims of crime after learning of KyCIR’s findings. But they otherwise defended their use of the ordinance as a tool to address problem properties.

Codes and Regulations Director Robert Kirchdorfer said the nuisance ordinance is key to addressing problems for residents who live near homes with criminal activity. People might begin to reevaluate their lives if they’re forced to move every time they get in trouble, Kirchdorfer said.

And LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay said the ordinance is a creative and important tool that goes beyond “locking people up.”

“We can go in and make those arrests or do those citations, but then you just leave the environment there,” Halladay said.

But local housing experts and advocates for victims of violence said treating eviction like a crime-fighting device is bad policy that leads to housing instability for the city’s most vulnerable.

Nearly all nuisance cases come at the request of the Louisville Metro Police Department.

“This is insidious that we’re using the police force to evict people,” said Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. “It doesn’t seem to fit in with everything else that we’re trying to do in Louisville to help stabilize families and people.”

It’s unclear how many nuisance cases led to an eviction because code enforcement officials don’t track the outcomes. At least 20 cases reviewed by KyCIR included documentation that a tenant was evicted, but homeowners don’t always submit the documentation.

Jerimy Austin, the city’s code enforcement supervisor, estimates at least half of all nuisance cases result in an eviction.

And enforcement of the ordinance is ramping up: police and code enforcement officials have issued more nuisance violations this year than they did in the previous two years combined.

Most Crimes Now Eligible As ‘Nuisance’

Louisville’s public nuisance ordinance has been in place for decades, but for much of its history, it focused on prostitution, alcohol, gambling and felony drug offenses.

In 2015, Metro Council added parameters for which hotels and motels would be considered nuisances. It also added murder and assault to the list of crimes that justify a nuisance case at a particular property.

By 2018, new language further expanded the list of reasons a property could be considered a public nuisance: code enforcement officials can now also consider misdemeanor drug crimes, possessing drug paraphernalia, theft, sexual offenses, and unlicensed massage therapy as the basis of a nuisance case.

Though much of the public discussion of the ordinance has focused on hotels, motels, and troublesome convenience stores, it’s almost always used against residential properties, the KyCIR review found. About 84% of cases are in the county’s western half, where studies show residents are more likely to be poor, black, or disabled, and less likely to own their home.

Green, the councilwoman, said she refuses to believe that nuisance crimes are largely occurring only in homes in west and southwest Louisville.

“Who is doing the screening process?” she said. “Who gets to ride off into the sunset because they check the box of being affluent, white, East End?”

When LMPD officers suggest possible nuisance cases, resource officers from each division screen them and pass them on to code enforcement. Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Christina Beaven, who until recently was the First Division Resource Officer, which includes portions of west Louisville, said the expanded ordinance was a “huge win” for LMPD. Nuisance cases actually allow them to help citizens in poorer areas of the city, where absentee landlords might ignore problem tenants, Beaven said.

“It’s not fair that they can’t have the quality of life we have in other parts of the city,” Beaven said. “Nobody would ever put up in the East End with having a drug house move in next door to them.”

But one expert on nuisance ordinances said this ordinance as written could be having a disproportionate impact in neighborhoods where police are more present.

Megan Hatch, an associate professor at Cleveland State University’s department of urban studies, researches nuisance ordinances, and she reviewed Louisville’s public nuisance ordinance at KyCIR’s request. She noted that it allows broad enforcement for nearly any run-in with police — and not just for arrests and confirmed crimes, but any time a police report is written.

A police report can be written for nearly anything, Hatch said.

“This is a little harsher than some,” she said.

And it’s unclear what leads one property to be considered as a nuisance over another with a similar history.

In October 2017, police filed an incident report after responding to the scene of a shooting in the Parkland neighborhood. The victim became “uncooperative” after he was confronted with inconsistencies in his account, according to the incident report, and he refused to participate in the investigation.

Later that month, he received a letter informing him of the nuisance violation.

When asked if a nuisance violation is used as an added penalty when people don’t want to cooperate with police, Halladay of LMPD said it’s useful to force the hand of a landlord who isn’t willing to make changes.

“Not everyone willingly wants to fix an issue,” Halladay said. “Public nuisance is designed to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here isn’t acceptable by this community’s standards because we passed the law on this and we would like you to make some changes, or there will be some penalty.’”

Relying on nuisance laws to counter some of society’s most pressing issues is misguided and shortsighted, said Marie Claire Tran-Leung, a senior attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, a Chicago-based economic advocacy group.

“It’s not a way to actually address problems that are in a community,” she said. “It’s just a way to sort of put a Band-Aid on things.”

And it could cause some vulnerable people to be unwilling to call police when they need help.

Advocates: Eviction Threat Could Stop Victims From Seeking Help

Elizabeth Wessels-Martin, the president of the Center for Women and Families, said she was unaware that the city’s nuisance laws were being enforced after domestic violence incidents.

It’s unrealistic, she said, to expect victims to bear the burden of resolving a nuisance case.

“Domestic violence relationships are very complicated and very intertwined,” she said.

Some victims may depend on their abuser for financial support, or perhaps they fear their children may be taken away if they report abuse, Wessels-Martin said.

Adding the threat of eviction could absolutely prevent victims from seeking help, she said.

“It pushes victims to stay with the perpetrators because they don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. “They don’t want to be homeless.”

In Louisville, the number of people experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence has increased steadily since 2014, according to research from the University of Louisville’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

In 2018, more than 1,580 people spent time in a homeless shelter due to domestic violence, which is a 17 percent increase compared with the year prior.

LMPD and codes officials said they would consider revisiting the issue as it pertains to victims.

Kirchdorfer of the codes department said he didn’t know his department was using the nuisance ordinance against victims of crime, particularly domestic violence.

“I think on these, we need to have some further followup with LMPD,” Kirchdorfer said. “We don’t want to cause any problems if someone’s been victimized.”

Austin, the supervisor of the nuisance program, said he reviews each case before issuing the violation notice to ensure the charges qualify as a public nuisance.

Domestic violence incidents can qualify a property as a public nuisance, under the ordinance, because all assault-related offenses can be considered a nuisance. But Austin said he’s never approved a notice in a domestic violence case since he took over the role in May. Records show his office has, before and since Austin’s tenure.

Halladay, the LMPD spokesperson, said the enforcement “may have some adverse consequences for those people who get caught up in other people’s behavior.”

“If we need to review how domestic violence has been impacted… we’re totally open to that,” Halladay said. That is not our intention, to put people in a position of greater hardship.”

With Little History Of Problems, Families Surprised By Notices

Andrea Swain was out of town when her cozy, tidy Shawnee home was labeled a public nuisance.

Swain is a homeowner, and she likes the neighborhood, close to downtown and the interstate. She recently replaced the hardwood floors, and photos of family line the shelves. On the wall near the front door is a framed, old newspaper article featuring her son when he was younger, with a violin tucked beneath his chin.

“We’re just a normal family,” Swain said. “We get up and take care of our yard and talk to our neighbors. We are not a nuisance.”

She was visiting family out of state when the police showed up to her house in March 2018. In her absence, her son, then 17, had friends over for a night of socializing and smoking weed.

One of the teens grabbed a pistol and fired it into the dirt in the backyard.

Swain’s house is on a street equipped with ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system largely reserved for the city’s highest-crime blocks. The police showed up, and cited the teens for possession of marijuana. Swain’s son was cited for possessing the gun as a minor.

Two days later, the city sent Swain a letter, informing her that her home was a public nuisance because of the incident. Swain doesn’t condone what her son did, but she’s also not sure how that one incident qualifies her home as a nuisance.

But it’s allowable under the ordinance, which requires two police interactions within 12 months. Police records show they had visited Swain’s home on three different occasions. Twice, they came in response to burglar alarms. The other time, they were asked to make a welfare check on Swain, who suffers from lupus and brain cancer, after she missed a doctor’s appointment and didn’t answer the phone.

Since Swain owns the home, she’s not at risk of eviction. But she risks a $400 fine if the police are called to her home again.

“I would be highly pissed if something like that happened,” she said. “Four hundred dollars is a lot of money.”

The threat wouldn’t necessarily deter Swain from calling for help, if she needed to. But she doesn’t think it’s fair.

Far down Dixie Highway, beyond the strip clubs and factories, Kenneth Allen Sr. lives in a 700-square-foot home built on the steep bank of the Ohio River. There are no other homes in sight, but his home has nonetheless been deemed a public nuisance, too.

This February, Louisville Metro Police and the United States Postal Inspection Service showed up at his door for a “knock and talk,” according to police records.

They alleged that Allen, 79, trafficked in controlled substances after they seized eight pain pills he tried to mail to his son in Florida.

Allen couldn’t be reached for comment. His wife, Diana Allen, said she thought the nuisance violation was unwarranted, and amounted to police harassment.

Allen’s landlord, Ted Hayes, received a letter alerting him that the property had been deemed a public nuisance, and noting that a defense to the violation would be evicting Allen. He refused.

“Why would you evict someone for that?” Hayes asked. “The man wasn’t dealing drugs out of my property. [The police] know that, he’s not a drug dealer.”

Hayes received that letter shortly after Allen was charged — well before Allen’s trafficking charge was amended down to not keeping his prescription pills in the proper container.

Hayes had his attorney send a letter to the code enforcement department letting them know he was not going to evict Allen. He said he never heard anything else.

Landlords Say Enforcement Is Complicated For Business

Enforcement is complicated for property owners, who might welcome the added information from law enforcement but are also trying to run their private business as they see fit.

“I like to know what’s going on,” said Lisa Thornton, who manages nearly 40 properties in the city, three of which have been deemed a public nuisance.

In October, at a house she owns in southwest Louisville, police arrested a 24-year-old woman for possession of methamphetamine, according to police records. After receiving the notice of the public nuisance, Thornton contacted the tenant — the arrested woman’s mother — to find out what happened.

As Thornton tells it, her tenant’s daughter was visiting, and when she refused to leave, the tenant called the police to escort her out. She had outstanding warrants, and the police arrested her. Then, they found meth on her, and issued a nuisance violation against the house where her mother lived.

Thornton decided not to evict the woman she called a wonderful, long-term tenant who keeps her house clean.

But Thornton said she doesn’t want to be perceived as a landlord “that turns a blind eye.” So she told her tenant her daughter was no longer permitted to visit — even though the tenant is caring for her daughter’s child.

“I like to go by the law,” she said.

Toni Raybon owns a handful of properties in western and southwest Louisville. She said it’s unfair to saddle landlords with potential fines if tenants fail to adhere to the city’s standards.

So when police served a search warrant in October 2017 on her tenants and found drugs and guns, Raybon promptly evicted. She felt like doing so was her only option.

“I don’t want to be associated with that,” she said.

Richard Sturgeon was glad to receive a public nuisance violation on a home he used to own on Blue Lick Road in far south Jefferson County. He said he suspected his tenants were dealing drugs, and he was quick to evict after LMPD charged the man with trafficking methamphetamines.

“It gave me an excuse to get rid of them,” he said. “You can’t blame me for idiots like that.”

The ordinance also wields power over property owners who live in their properties.

Police asked codes in March 2018 to issue a nuisance violation to a home on West Madison Street. Beaven of LMPD said its occupant was one of the most notorious drug dealers in the Russell neighborhood.

“We all knew he was dealing drugs,” she said. “Because of the public nuisance ordinance, we were able to dislocate him from that area.”

But, property records show that he was not exactly pushed out — at least not immediately.

In the midst of the case, he bought the house from his landlord.

He was cited, and then codes issued him an “order to vacate” in February — he wasn’t allowed to live in the house he owned. Or, at least, he wasn’t allowed to live in that house: property records show he owns three others, including one on the same block.

Eviction doesn’t necessarily resolve the problem, according to Hinko, the housing advocate.

“It’s just a waterbed,” Hinko said. “You push down here, it rises somewhere else. People are just moving around, because you’re not intervening in a meaningful way.”

Rules Unclear Even To Enforcers

According to Louisville’s ordinance, properties are considered a nuisance after two incidents with police within a year.

Code officials are supposed to issue a warning after the first notification from police, notifying the property owner that “further violations will constitute a public nuisance.” After a second report from police, code officials should notify the owner that the property is a public nuisance — and that the public nuisance must be abated. If it isn’t, property owners risk fines or even an order to vacate.

But interpretations of that ordinance vary depending on whom you ask.

Beaven, the LMPD sergeant, said just one visit from police can result in a public nuisance violation — but LMPD officers wouldn’t do that “arbitrarily,” she said, unless they knew there was a problem.

Austin, the Code Enforcement supervisor, said “there is no set number” of incidents needed at a property to trigger a nuisance violation.

But the ordinance clearly mandates that a property must be the site of at least two police incidents within a year before it can be considered a public nuisance.

Austin said he doesn’t know how many runs LMPD has made before they ask his office to issue a violation, and the violations only include detail about the one police interaction that led to the violation.

“We just go by what LMPD sends us,” he said.

While Kirchdorfer of the codes department said the letter his office sends is indeed a warning, as the ordinance prescribes, the letter specifically says the property has been deemed a nuisance and offers eviction as a defense, a review of the records shows.

Louisville City Council President David James didn’t respond to a call for comment. Green, the chair of the council’s public safety committee, said city employees need to understand the ordinance language — and follow it.

“If we have employees out there that are violating what the code says, shame on them,” she said. “They should be dealt with.”

But the confusion extends all the way through the appeals process.

Jacob Ryan

Charles Barbee

Dozens of police officers scaled Charles Barbee’s fence in June 2018, rifles in hand, looking for signs he was selling drugs.

The police found no drugs inside his Pleasure Ridge Park home after executing that search warrant. But records show police found weed and two guns in a truck in the driveway.

Barbee is a felon, and he was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a handgun, trafficking marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He spent the night in jail. Three weeks later, city officials sent his landlord a public nuisance violation notice.

Barbee’s landlord is his son, Andrew Barbee. He appealed, using the process laid out in the registered letter he received.

Records show he’s one of only about a dozen property owners to take that step, since that’s how many cases the city’s Code Enforcement Board has reviewed out of nearly 500 nuisance cases since 2017.

The penalties laid out in the violation letter are also rarely enforced: only 25 of the cases have resulted in a $400 fine, records show. Five were eventually issued an order to vacate.

In February, Andrew Barbee’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, argued to the enforcement board that the charges against Charles Barbee weren’t lawful.

Jeremy Kirkham, the board chair, questioned how the property could even be considered a public nuisance.

Only one incident involving police was listed on the violation notice, and the ordinance requires at least two. Kirkham turned to Wesley Barbour, the Code Enforcement official present at the hearing, to explain how the case met the definition of the ordinance.

Barbour fell silent, and searched the ordinance for nearly two minutes. Then, he said the notice is only meant to alert property owners that an additional incident involving police would constitute their property being listed as a public nuisance.

The letter Andrew Barbee received clearly stated the city “has deemed your property … a public nuisance.” It made no mention that at least two incidents with police are required before a property can be considered a public nuisance. And an unknown number of landlords have evicted their tenants on the basis of similar letters.

Upon hearing Barbour’s explanation, Kirkham ruled the Barbees were never deemed a nuisance in the first place. They had nothing to appeal.

Ryan, the attorney, said he and his client would be satisfied — although, he noted, “I don’t really understand.”

The Code Enforcement Board chair laughed.

“Apparently we don’t either,” he said.

Caitlin McGlade contributed to this report. Contact Jacob Ryan at (502) 814.6559 or jryan@kycir.org.

 

The post For Louisville Offenders And Victims Alike, A New Label: ‘Public Nuisance’ appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

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