Sat, March 02, 2024

Cracking down on substandard housing

Owners of rental properties in Augusta could find themselves under increased pressure to bring their properties up to occupancy standards.

During Monday’s meeting of the Public Services Committee, District 1 Commissioner, Jordan Johnson told fellow commissioners he recommends creating a city ordinance to deal with property owners of substandard housing.

“I was at a town hall that was hosted in Harrisburg. A family was speaking about a home on Warren Street, and just about how bad the condition of the home was,” he explained. “So, we went to the home, and it was in terrible condition. You can smell the home from the yard. I don’t think they had any type of sewage; it was terrible. And the landlord lived in North Augusta and couldn’t be reached.”

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Jordan said he has received telephone calls from all areas of Augusta complaining about deteriorating housing stock creating unsafe conditions for tenants and neighborhoods.

“I want to have a real conversation about absentee landlords and slumlords. You see them in Sand Hills. You see them in Harrisburg and Laney-Walker,” he said. “Certainly, investors aren’t the enemies, but if they’re going to have a home that they’re making profit off of, they need to be held responsible for keeping that property up. Harrisburg is deplorable, the way that it looks right now. You go down Battle Row, you go down Crawford Avenue, you go down Eve Street. There is slumlord after slumlord after slumlord.”

Jordan acknowledged it may be difficult for Augusta to enact an ordinance specifically addressing owners of substandard housing. Georgia has laws regarding the responsibilities of both property owners and tenants. Any ordinance Augusta creates must follow rules in place by the state.

(https://www.dca.ga.gov/node/2945)

Augusta is not the only city struggling with the question of how to deal with property owners who fail to maintain their rental properties.

In June 2022, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began publishing a series of articles called “Dangerous Dwellings.” A recent article was published in Sept. 2023, written by investigative reporter, Willoughby Mariano.

(www.ajc.com/news/investigations/dwellings/apartments-part-six/).

“That investigation found that Georgia had some of the weakest tenant protections in the nation, allowing private equity firms and other out-of-town investors to reap millions of dollars from the metro area’s persistently dangerous apartments.

The toll is staggering. These investors leave tens of thousands of people in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties to live amid violence and unhealthy, unsafe conditions,” the AJC article said.

Augusta District 2 Commissioner, Stacy Pulliam said she has issues with deteriorating rental properties within her district. She understands the state’s law is the current guideline.

“I started some conversations with some of our state legislators and our state representatives about this and what laws could be put in place. I was told that it was at the state level that some changes need to be made,” she said. “So, how can we lobby for that? You know, what does that look like? Because even if the person lives in a neighboring county, you know, like if they’re in Columbia County, and they own property in Richmond, there is not too much you can do because they’re in another county. So, I’m on board with what we can do to try to get this moving forward.”

Augusta does have its own law regarding blighted properties. The ordinance was approved in June 2022. However, Jordan said that deals only with abandoned properties and could not be used in connection with occupied dwellings.

The city’s Code Enforcement Department was instructed to work with the legal department to see what kind of ordinance could be written.

The committee also voted to arrange a tour for commissioners and department heads to see rental housing properties that are creating hazards. That tour is to be scheduled within 60 days.

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