'Let's take it to the next level'
Porterdale increases its code enforcement

PORTERDALE - City Council members gave the green light Thursday night to more aggressive enforcement of the housing code.

In a town where about 50 percent of the houses are rental property, many have fallen into disrepair or have debris, furniture and junk cars on the property. The city is pursuing more stringent code enforcement to clean up problem areas and improve the overall appearance of the historic mill village.

Housing Official and Code Enforcement Officer Curt Leasure gave the council members a list of problem houses at a meeting earlier this month; at Thursday night's work session he asked how far the council wants him to go in pursuing the cleanup. The two-page list includes 115 cases of code violations for 2008, including debris and/or furniture on patios, porches or in yards; junk cars in yards; and structural deficiencies. Leasure said some of the 115 cases on the list represent multiple violations at the same address.

Though the list is long, Leasure said about half of the cases have been closed since the first of the year. In addition, he said he resolved about 450 housing code violations in the past year.

"There's been so much done, even on the back streets, not just in the downtown area," Leasure said. "It's hard to believe, there's been so much effort put into it."

Councilwoman Kay Piper told Leasure on Thursday night that his job is one of the most important to the town's ongoing revitalization efforts. She said dilapidated rental properties need to be dealt with to encourage growth in the owner-occupied population.

"You've done a wonderful job," Piper said to Leasure. "Let's take it to the next level."

Councilwoman Linda Finger concurred.

"I say go after every one of them. We will totally support you, Mr. Leasure."

The council consensus Thursday night was that those who continue to violate the housing code will be issued a summons to appear in Porterdale Magistrate Court. At that point, Leasure said, the judge can fine violators from $50 to $1,000 per day until the code violation is corrected.

Leasure, who has been in charge of code enforcement for Porterdale since last February, said no summonses were issued for code violations last year. However, Leasure said Friday he will begin issuing summonses in early May. If the code violations are cleared up before the court date, Leasure said he has the authority to withdraw the summons.

He also said he had informed town residents who have housing code violations of the stepped-up enforcement on Friday.

"I talked to most of the people today to give them a heads up and let them know what's coming," he said.

Leasure said some violations will involve properties that are structurally unsound and will eventually require demolition. He estimated there are 12 or 14 houses that fall into that category.

"Most of the problems are landowners that have several houses that, for some reason or other, don't want to rent them; they just let them sit there," he said.

Leasure said he will bring in experts to determine which houses are unsound.

"On the houses that need major repair work or need to be demolished, I'm going to have an engineer and a fire inspector come in and do a structural and a fire inspection on them," Leasure said.

If property owners do not bring the houses into compliance with the code, Leasure said the town can ultimately have them condemned and demolished, and a tax lien will be placed on the property to reimburse the city for the cost of the work.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@newtoncitizen.com.