Perry apartment residents can stay in their homes for now

Judge grants 60-day injunction on closure of Crossroads Apartments

bpurser@macon.comMarch 7, 2014 

  • The residents and owner of the Crossroads Apartments won a sixty day injunction on inspections of the complex and will be presented with a list of needed repairs.

PERRY -- Judge Edward D. Lukemire granted a 60-day injunction Friday on the pending closure of Crossroads Apartments and the eviction of its tenants.

The city was expected to shut down the apartments in the 300 block of Gen. Courtney Hodges Boulevard on Monday because of alleged fire and building code violations. But a stay was granted by Lukemire late that afternoon until Friday’s hearing.

In granting the injunction, Lukemire weighed the potential of imminent danger to public safety against due process rights of property owners and residents.

The judge ordered the property owners and residents to allow access to the apartments and the city to prepare a list of what needs to be corrected. The issue is expected to be revisited before the court.

Numerous violations were discovered Feb. 26 after the city received a complaint about the apartments. The violations included problematic electrical wiring and a lack of smoke detectors in many of the 20 units. Three of the apartments were vacant.

City ordinances give the fire chief the authority to close down an apartment complex if it’s not up to code and its tenants’ safety is at risk.

During the nearly three-hour hearing, Lukemire heard arguments from attorneys and testimony from the property owners, firefighters and the city’s chief building inspector.

Ron Rowland, a Warner Robins Realtor, testified that the city had not previously inspected the property in the 10 years he owned the apartments.

Fire Chief Joel Gray testified the issuance of a business permit kicks in the annual inspection of motels. Rowland said he did know the city had the building classified as a motel, and he did not need a business permit to operate apartments.

Rowland said he sold the property to Miriam and Mark Green in October. He still holds the title to the property because the sale is not officially finalized, but a memorandum of understanding has been signed.

Mark Green testified about numerous improvements he’s made to the property in the past four months. He said an electrician came in and inspected the property and found only minor issues.

Rowland and Green both testified that they received less than a two-hour notice Feb. 28 that the city planned to close the apartments and evict residents. They were given an extension until Monday at 6 p.m. Both said the city never gave them a list of what was wrong.

Firefighters painted a different picture of the condition of the apartments.

Deputy Fire Chief David Staton testified that if a fire broke out, several of the apartment residents would likely die.

Staton also went over about 25 photographs from the inspection that resulted in the city’s planned action to evict the residents. The photographs depicted numerous wiring problems, including unprotected wires, as well as holes in the walls and ceiling.

Staton said one of the vacant apartments could be accessed by vagrants, who in turn could start a fire that could easily spread throughout the building.

Steve Howard, the city’s chief building inspector, testified that the city would need to conduct a thorough inspection of the property and know whether Green was operating as apartments or a motel before issuing a list of problems that need to be corrected.

But Lukemire said frankly that he did not care whether Crossroads was operating as apartments or a motel, with that an issue for another day.

He narrowed the focus to the city’s authority to close the apartments based on an imminent danger to public safety and the due process rights of property owners and apartment residents to appeal and contest the action.

“But where’s the line?” Lukemire asked.

He noted potential for abuse without due process in which a dwelling could be closed under the guise of imminent danger when the real reason was frequent police visits to the property. However, Lukemire stressed that he did not think that was the intent of city officials in relation to Crossroads Apartments. Police have responded to hundreds of calls at the apartments.

While the court is not in the position to determine if there was an imminent danger to residents at the time of the closure order, Lukemire did express some reservation in granting the injunction based on testimony from firefighters.

City Attorney David Walker argued that imminent danger outweighs due process. He said the reason for building and fire codes is to protect people from harm.

“We’re concerned for the safety of the people out there,” Walker said.

But Clarence Williams III, a Warner Robins attorney representing the property owners, countered the problems identified were minor and could be repaired.

He said the Greens had suffered financial loss because of the city’s action, and several of the tenants were “on the verge of becoming homeless.”

Several residents attended the hearing, including those who said they had nowhere to go if the apartments closed.

“I’m happy I got a place to live for a little while,” said resident Rex Parish, a military veteran. “I’m going to stay there and help fight for it.”

Resident Edna Rich was also happy with the ruling.

“I think it’s good. He’s got 60 days, and they have to give him a list. That is very good because he’s already done a lot it,” said Rich, referring to Green.

“I hope that after 60 days when it’s revisited that everything will be worked out,” said 63-year-old resident Willie Bass, a Vietnam War combat veteran. “I am depending on God to work it out for us.”

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