Gallery: Students Move In Despite Covid-19 Concerns Wednesday, Aug 19 2020 

By Anthony Riley-

Amidst concerns over the novel Corona virus, students still filled each residence hall as the university reopens. Move-in Week was held over three days as opposed to the tradition of just one to help reduce crowding and close contact as following the CDC guidelines for social distancing. Despite worries over COVID-19, residence halls were reopened to students moving in to start the semester, and Welcome Week events and festivities were still held; with various changes to slow the spread of the virus.

Photos By Anthony Riley//The Louisville Cardinal

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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

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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

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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.

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