Monday, April 08, 2013

TOP STORY >> City defends demolition

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville resident Berthena Nunn is lashing out at city officials after a dilapidated rental home she owned at 300 N. Elm St. was demolished Thursday.

Code enforcement officer Charles Jenkins said she was warned several times. Nunn claims the city didn’t give her enough notice and Jenkins didn’t tell her exactly what needed to be fixed. Nunn also claimed she is out the $45,000 to $50,000 she spent on improvements.

When The Leader called to speak to Nunn, she said her attorney would answer any questions and promptly hung up. A second phone call made to ask who her attorney is went to a message stating that Nunn’s voicemail had not been set up.

That is the same message Jenkins claimed he was directed to several times when he called Nunn to speak with her about the condemnation.

This isn’t the first time the city has been threatened with a lawsuit. Jacksonville has often settled out of court to avoid expensive legal battles.

Nunn was involved in a 2010 discrimination lawsuit against the Department of Human Services and is currently suing one of her tenants for $35,000 plus court costs and attorney fees. According to a complaint filed in February, the tenant removed two vehicles from the mobile home lot she owned and didn’t return them.

Jacksonville has asked her to pay for the demolition.

Jenkins said, “We did all the steps that were required. We actually did more than was required.”

The house was vacant for more than a year and there were complaints about drug activity going on there, he added.

Jenkins also said the city loses money when it demolishes a home. That is because placing a lien on the property is often Jacksonville’s only option to recoup the cost of the demolition. If the property is never sold, Jacksonville doesn’t get reimbursed, Jenkins said. He noted that the code enforcement office always prefers to work with property owners.

The city council demonstrated that attitude at its meeting Thursday when the aldermen removed 119 Roosevelt Road from the condemnation list because the owner’s father had come to a previous meeting to request an extension. The council praised him for bringing the property up to code in a timely fashion.

Jenkins first spoke with Nunn in person on Sept. 25, 2012. He and Police Chief Gary Sipes also met with her at the police department on Jan. 9.

According his report, Jenkins received a complaint about the house on March 28, 2012. He found boarded-up windows, open electrical sockets, water damage and foundation damage at the house. In July, Jenkins tried to reach Nunn by visiting one of her listed addresses, 6600 W. Main St., sending a letter to her post office box and by e-mailing her.

District Judge Robert Batton signed a search warrant in August 2012. Jenkins noted the following additional code violations in his reports: a broken window, a rusted, corroded and improperly vented hot water heater, a kitchen floor that was giving way, rodent holes in various rooms and rodent droppings indicating there was an infestation at the house.

A public nuisance notice was posted at the house on Aug. 13, 2012, according to Jenkins’ report. A public nuisance letter was also mailed to Nunn in September.

Nunn told Jenkins at their first meeting later that month she wanted to renovate the property, according to the report. Nunn was told she had seven days to give code enforcement a timeline for the renovation, including when she expected to finish the work.

Nunn didn’t do that, according to Jenkins’ report. He received the timeline three weeks later and tried to contact Nunn to discuss it. Jenkins checked the house on Oct. 31, 2012, and saw that the front porch add-on had been painted.

The city council condemned the property at its Nov. 15, 2012, meeting. A final notice was sent mailed on Nov. 20, 2012.

On Dec. 12, 2012, according to Jenkins’ report, he went to the house and found that plumbing, electrical wiring, painting and foundation work had been done. But, the code enforcement officer said, the improvements had not been inspected and no building permits were issued to Nunn. That is when and why a cease-and- desist order was issued to her.

Jenkins said the police chief informed Nunn about the procedure for appealing the condemnation during their meeting in January.

Jenkins added that he and Sipes delayed the demolition Thursday, even though they weren’t required to do so, to allow Nunn to remove items from the house.