Legal battle continues over Perry apartments

bpurser@macon.comMarch 29, 2014 

crossroads_owner

Mark Green stands in front of the extended stay Crossroads Apartments on the south side of Perry that he and his wife are rebuilding. City building inspectors say the property, originally a motel built in 1929, is uninhabitable.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com Buy Photo

PERRY -- Mark and Miriam Green of Bonaire share a vision of restoring Crossroads Apartments to its original state.

The Greens -- who grew up in Byron and have a teenager at home, a daughter in college and the oldest son working alongside his father -- have sunk everything they have into the venture, including Mark Green’s retirement funds. He has a background in property management and construction. She’s been in real estate for about seven years and has her broker’s license.

“I see a diamond in the rough right here,” Mark Green recalled thinking when considering whether to purchase the 1929-era motel converted into apartments at 319 Gen. Courtney Hodges Blvd. “I can really come in and work on this place and get this place back to where it needs to be.”

The Greens, who took over the complex in mid-November, are embroiled in a legal battle with the city of Perry after the fire marshal and chief building inspector said tenants were in imminent danger based on alleged code violations. A temporary injunction is now in play.

Countdown underway

A complaint from someone at a nearby business led to an inspection by the fire marshal and chief building inspector Feb. 26. Two days later and with only a few hours notice, the city ordered the closure of the apartments and eviction of the tenants. Mayor Jimmy Faircloth stepped in late that afternoon and gave tenants until March 4 to move out. Many of the residents said they had no place to go. Others moved out.

At 5:25 p.m. March 4, Judge Edward D. Lukemire temporarily halted the eviction action after Warner Robins attorney Clarence Williams III sought relief for the Greens and Warner Robins Realtor Ron Rowland until a hearing could be held. Rowland holds the mortgage on the apartments, which he sold to the Greens. If the Greens default, the property reverts back to Rowland.

At a March 7 hearing, Lukemire granted a 60-day injunction. Lukemire weighed the potential of imminent danger to public safety against due process rights of property owners and residents. His verbal ruling from the bench was drafted into a written order dated March 21. Attorneys for both sides said they received the order Thursday and agreed the 60-day count down began when the order was signed.

“The owners, managers and tenants shall provide the city of Perry unlimited access to the property for property inspection,” Lukemire wrote in the order. “The owners, managers and tenants shall sign any necessary documents to allow the city of Perry access to all units/apartments and all structures of buildings on the premises.

“Once the inspection is complete, the city of Perry must provide the owners and managers a list of all code violations and the remediation needed to bring said violations in compliance with applicable codes,” Lukemire said.

Lukemire did not address the issue of alleged financial harm to the Greens based on the city’s actions. The Greens allege they’ve lost -- and continue to lose -- rental revenue. Mark Green said the city’s notices of “imminent danger and no occupancy” are still posted around the building, which isn’t good for business.

City Attorney David Walker said the city’s insurance carrier will file an answer to that claim, and it will be heard separately.

Is it a motel or apartments?

As of Friday, an inspection had not been scheduled for Crossroads Apartments, Fire Chief Joel Gray said.

At issue is whether Crossroads Apartments will be inspected as apartments or a motel. The distinction determines which set of codes will be applied and what modifications may be required, Gray said.

Attorneys debated before Lukemire at the hearing on which codes may or may not apply. And a memorandum on inspections produced March 12 by the city’s community development director indicates city codes may be limited as far as apartment complexes.

A city code on determining if a structure is unfit to live in has not been used by the city to inspect a building but appears to be applicable, Mike Beecham wrote in the memo. But it cannot be used to require something be brought up to code unless there is a fire hazard declaration, he stated.

Also, building codes do not allow for inspections except when a permit is issued or when a building is converted from one usage classification to another, Beecham stated.

However, Walker said both the state fire code and international property maintenance code are applicable to either operating as a motel or apartments. But Williams has argued the city misapplied the codes and didn’t follow its own policy and procedures related to due process remedies.

The Greens purchased Crossroads Apartments as apartments but later learned the city classified it as a motel. However, Rowland has said the city has never inspected the apartments, and he’s never had a business license. He said he didn’t need one to operate apartments, and the city’s position was that issuance of business licenses kicks in annual inspections.

The day after the hearing, Miriam Green obtained a business license for Crossroads Apartments as a motel. But she and her husband are still wrestling with what they should do and aren’t sure where to turn for guidance. They’d like to operate Crossroads Apartments as either an extended motel or studio apartments.

For Mark Green, the bottom line is being able to stay open while he continues to upgrade Crossroads Apartments. He doesn’t want tenants to lose their homes, and he depends on the rental income to offset the monthly mortgage payment and other bills.

Since taking over Crossroads Apartments, Green said he’s added central heat and air; pulled up old carpeting; put in laminate flooring; cleared out old rooms; hauled junk to the landfill; cleaned up the back of the property, including boarding up six vacant, unusable apartments; and cut and cleared away overgrown brush. He’s also painted and repaired dry wall and had an electrician in before the hearing.

He and his wife were busy working on the property last week. Tenants say he’s done more to the apartments in the four months he’s been there than has been done in the past 10 years.

Also, his attorney, Williams, has suggested there may be another motivator behind the city’s sudden interest in inspecting Crossroads Apartments related to a desire to make Gen. Courtney Hodges Boulevard a gateway to downtown.

Gray said there’s no move afoot to put the Greens out of business, and he’s not unsympathetic to their plight. He said it’s not uncommon for newcomers to real estate to fail to thoroughly investigate a structure before purchase.

And Gray said he has to be most concerned about safety -- first for the tenants and second for the city to avoid liability.

The city attorney said it’s his hope the Greens will be able to bring the property into compliance.

“We want the people out there to be safe, and we hope that they can get the building and the conditions where they will be,” Walker said. “We’re not trying to put people out on the street. We just want them to be safe where they’re living.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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