Heritage House: Why Didn't City Step In Earlier?

GREENSBORO, NC -- Tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid water and light bills, and hundreds of calls to police about crime --- not many were surprised when the city of Greensboro decided to condemn and board up Heritage House.

In fact, some have been asking: why didn't the city step in earlier?

The plain version is, as much as the city has a duty to protect its citizens, renters have rights and so do property owners.

Heritage House is a private property and the city can't just show up and board it up because there's suspected crime or housing code violations.

There's a legal system in place to do that.

The city's ordinance gives a landlord 30 days to fix housing violations and up to 90 days if he or she is actively working to fix the issues.

If not, Barbara Harris, the director of the city's housing inspections department says, there's a $200 civil penalty per unit and $75 each day the violation is not corrected.

Eventually, the issue is referred to the housing commission -- which can either condemn the building or demolish it.

Harris says Heritage House had the same options.

"I don't believe that there's any way we could have prevented the situation from escalating to the level that it did," she explained.

Harris says the first major inspection of Heritage House was back in 2012.

Inspectors found numerous violations but the owners fixed almost all the issues in time and came back in good standing.

The second major inspection was this Jun where inspectors recorded more than 800 housing code violations.

The 30 days would have been up last week but ultimately it was the landlords' inability to pay the utilities that allowed the city to board up the building.

"Heritage House is a very unusual circumstance. I'm not convinced that we need to change the ordinance just based on the circumstances at Heritage House," Harris said.

The city's inspection system is complaint-driven, meaning, unless those who live in a rental unit complain not much the city can do.

It's the case for other cities around the Triad including Winston-Salem and High Point.

Edwin Brown with High Point says right now they have 300 housing cases open.

"It's a long process and people sometimes think we can demolish it right away but property owners have rights and you have to follow the state guidelines," he said.


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