Porterdale officials seek to improve housing conditions

PORTERDALE -- As part of its efforts to address substandard rental properties in the mill town, the city of Porterdale is actively pursuing citations against property owners who are in violation of the housing code.

With approximately 70 percent of Porterdale's residential properties as rentals, City Manager Bob Thomson said the city is trying to concentrate on the ones with more severe code violations and those that are a threat to health and safety.

"Some properties have more extreme conditions than others, but it is not unusual to have code violations and a number of problems in Porterdale," Thomson said. "We are trying to emphasize those now and in the new year."

One example of Porterdale's focus on improving substandard housing involves a home at 9 Spruce St. Based on complaints from a tenant at the house, Porterdale's code enforcement officer Robert Swanson inspected the property on Nov. 2 and found numerous life safety code violations. The tenant, who had apparently lived in the house since May, initially complained because there was no heat in the house.

The property owner, Curtis Jackson of Oxford, who owns several rental houses in Porterdale, was given 10 days from the notice of the violations to correct them or face citations. Some of the problems were corrected, but on Nov. 29 Jackson was served with 10 housing code citations. He is scheduled to appear in Porterdale Municipal Court on the citations on Jan. 23.

The violations for which Jackson was cited include lack of protective porch railings, electrical outlets that do not work, a bathtub that does not function, and an electrical panel box that is not up to code. In addition, the inspector cited Jackson for bat feces in the fireplace and a chimney that is not sealed off, exposed wiring, windows in need of repair and replacement, exterior doors in need of jambs and locks, and exterior walls that are in need of weatherproofing and paint. In addition, the inspector found the house needed rodent proofing and extermination.

Attempts to contact Jackson for this article were unsuccessful.

Porterdale Police Chief Geoff Jacobs said his officers are tasked with reporting housing code violations that are visible from the exterior of a home. Officers can also determine when some violations have been remedied. Interior code violations can be brought to the city's attention by resident complaint. Jacobs said some properties need more extensive work, and in those cases, the city's inspector, Robert Swanson, would be called out to document the problems.

"Once a problem is identified through a person making a complaint or the officer making a complaint himself, we give (the property owner) a warning letter that identifies what the problem is and how long they have to correct it," Jacobs said. "If, at the deadline, the problem has not been corrected, then we generally go out and give them another couple of days to get it taken care of."

If the violations remain uncorrected, Jacobs said the property owner would then be issued a citation and ordered to appear in court. Fines imposed would be determined by the city's Municipal Court judge. The court could also impose a deadline for correction of the code violations and the property owner could be fined for each day he fails to comply.

"We're determined to keep the heat on landlords who don't provide the basic necessities for a home to be safe, heated and protected from the elements," said Thomson.

Not all rental property owners in Porterdale allow their properties to fall into disrepair.

Max Sims of Conyers owns about a dozen rental properties in Porterdale.

"Most every one of my properties, if I had to, I would live in," Sims said. "I feel like, being a Christian, that I'm going to do everything I can to make it livable for somebody."

The rental market in Porterdale draws mostly lower income residents. Sims said he doesn't do a background check on his tenants; he primarily makes sure they have a job and can pay the rent. He also gets a sufficient deposit amount, he said, so if he has to rent the house again before the lease is up he'll have enough to cover any needed repairs.

The low purchase prices of the houses, which were mostly built in the 1920s, tend to make them an attractive buy, Sims said. Most of the houses he purchased in Porterdale were in foreclosure. Often, Sims said, he has to replace the exterior doors and sometimes the windows. It's also important to check and make sure termites haven't done too much damage. Houses that were once duplexes he remodels into single-family residences. Once he's put money into repairs and remodeling, he can get between $650 and $675 a month in rent for a three-bedroom house.

"Most of my people I deal with don't even have a checkbook," said Sims. "I tell them I take cash, cash and cash, and they can pay any way they want."