Friday, September 21, 2012

Abuse of Power – Rogue Code Enforcement


The code enforcement department in the city is much tougher on investors than any of the surrounding areas. I have not heard a single comment from our 550 member investors in Roanoke City to suggest otherwise.

It’s common to hear landlords and other property investors in the city say things such as “I will never buy another property in the city” or “I’m going to sell everything I have in the city and just buy in the county.” Statements such as this are most often associated with recent dealings with the Roanoke City Code Enforcement Department.

Investors moving their money out of the city creates a glut in the real estate market and significantly worsens the housing crisis and property values for everyone within the city. It also has a dramatic impact on revenue collected by the city due to the lower property values associated with the high supply and low demand issue that is created. This is why it is so critical for the city to maintain a positive business relationship with those who invest their money within it.

Landlords in the City of Roanoke are getting handed the short end of the stick and it’s unfortunate that our city would treat it’s small business owners in this manor. Especially when we own 63% of the single family homes in the city. Counting apartment complexes and multifamily houses the number is roughly 85 to 90%. Wow, think of the property tax we pay. The city largely operates on what we give them. And we really feel it every time property tax bill time comes around.

In the last article we talked about Code Enforcer Craig Sisson and policy related issues. Craig Sisson, although I don’t know him, I would suspect he is a pretty good guy. He should have called me so he could find out what the status was of the hoarding tenant that refuses to take her personal belongings out of her yard but he is infact following the policy that has been set in place by his management. Management does not want code enforcers contacting the landlord with anything but threats of both civil and criminal action in court as they are uninterested in developing positive relationships with those who own most of the city. We all know that people should be held accountable for their own actions but this is not something that the Code Enforcement department agrees with at this point in time either. Every single person I have ever talked to including tenants believe that people should be held accountable for their own actions. How do you feel about this? If you disagree, I think you may have had too much of the blue Kool Aid and should taper back some.

Then we have personal agenda driven enforcers like Jeff White who has focused all of his efforts on going after landlords while leaving code violations at owner occupied property un-cited. REI of Virginia to date has had 14 complaints in the past month from members about Jeff that range from things such as slapping inoperable vehicle stickers on a registered licensed vehicle that had a low but not anywhere near flat tire which was not in plain sight from the road to threatening criminal convictions on a landlord who had a gutter that dripped one drip every couple of seconds. A clear power trip that is way out of hand with his continual boasting about how he has been building houses since was 6 years old and is a Class A contractor who has more experience than anyone around. Good for you Jeff, that’s all I can say about that. I’m proud of you Jeff.

But the worst type of code enforcer for all investors to deal with is the one that has a personal vendetta against you. The one that for some reason no matter how nice you are tries to go after you at every opportunity they get. That code enforcer for me is Dana Horne-Shambry.

The very first house Dana got to learn on was one of my houses. She was gung ho and ready to slap some violations on my house that I just at that time purchased and went through a major renovation. I like to take these junk boarded up houses and make them nice tax producing pieces of property. And yes, I do feel like I should get an award for that. I increase the value of not only my property but every property around it. I produce massive amounts of additional revenue for the city every year due to this and help surrounding property owners get top dollar for their home when they sell.

Back to the point, it’s easy to miss a few things here and there when the whole house was a complete disaster when you started with it. However the ones surrounding it Dana could care less about as one is falling apart and boarded up, another I’m surprised hasn’t fallen down yet and another has a fence that is in continual need of repair as the neighborhood children tear it up on a regular basis. I fixed it for the neighbors once because it is an eyesore that  boarders my property but I won’t be fixing it again.

Dana walked around and got every little thing she could on her first inspection as she was taking her baby steps in her new job which is always a little comical to me considering the fact that I have been working with the seasoned code enforcers in this city for a long time and they always have a significantly more professional attitude. But regardless on weather I technically had to fix this issue or not, I did so anyway knowing that she is still getting her bearings and is still not fully aware of what the law dictates.

Then it came to a point where every time Dana came back out she continually added things that were not discussed in previous meetings that were well over the top including trying to tell me what kind of building material was used to boarder a bathtub and a gutter end piece that had a missing screw which is when I decided it was clear that for some reason Dana had some problem with me and she was now deciding that she would make me pay for whatever it was.

She at that time was asked to step off the property and to not return without a supervisor.

The next run in with Dana was when I bought a house for a fellow landlord with his money as he was not able to attend a sale and was transferring it to him via quit claim deed in a few weeks. The landlord got busy fixing up the place to help the neighborhood get rid of this eyesore but made the mistake of fixing it without getting a permit and Dana caught him. He also went ahead and rented the place when complete without a rental certificate. Well, my LLC was presently the owner. Dana contacted me with the typical threat letter and I contacted her by phone as a normal civil human being would. I told Dana about the situation and told her the property would be transferred to the other landlord the following week.

Regardless of my attempt of positive communication, Dana proceeded  to file charges against me personally. Not my LLC which was the owner but ME. I was served for 6 different issues, 2 of which were criminal. One of which she did right and served the LLC and one which she broke the law and served me personally which is still on my record and costs approximately $600 to get expunged, damages of which I will likely seek legally in a court of law in a personal lawsuit against her.

Now Dana and I have had our most recent run in where she has personally attacked me again. Remember the neighbors fence I was talking about previously that the neighborhood hoodlums keep tearing up? This fence runs along my and their property line. It is easy to tell who owns a fence in every situation because the better looking side ALWAYS goes on the outside. The framing supportive parts of fences are always on the inside. Dana knows this very well. She is not a stupid woman. She also knows who owns the fence from multiple online requests for service that she has not acted upon.

Well… a couple days ago Dana saw this as an opportunity to go after me again and enter my house.

Let me give you a few quotes from the law so we are all on the same page and have an understanding of how and why Dana broke the law.

Virginia Code 36-105.1:1 Rental inspections; rental inspection districts; exemptions; penalties.

The law states:  “G. Exemptions from rental inspection ordinance. Upon the initial or periodic inspection of a residential rental dwelling unit subject to a rental inspection ordinance for compliance with the Building Code, provided that there are no violations of the Building Code that affect the safe, decent and sanitary living conditions for the tenants of such residential rental dwelling unit, the building department shall provide, to the owner of such residential rental dwelling unit, an exemption from the rental inspection ordinance for a minimum of four years.”

The house that Dana checked has a valid rental exemption certificate which was given to me by her and nothing has changed since she checked it last time.

The ONLY way allowed by LAW that a code enforcer may enter a property after the landlord has been given a rental exemption certificate is “If the residential rental dwelling unit becomes in violation of the Building Code during the exemption period, the building department may revoke the exemption previously granted under this section.”

The Code Enforcement department uses this language to enter your unit when a tenant calls because they are being evicted. I just so happened to be in the process of evicting the tenants in the unit she checked so I naturally assumed that they called code enforcement to vindictively get me back for kicking them out.

I contacted my tenants to find out why it is that they called code enforcement if they had a problem instead of calling my maintenance people to come and fix it. I always have had a policy of fixing whatever kinds of problems my tenants have. Keeps happy tenants and helps me get my rent on time.

Their answer I have saved by text is “We are not the ones who called those people but the lady that came said you would think we did. She said she needed to look around. Whenever we call maintenance they come by, why would we. She said she wanted to look around to see if anything was wrong. So we didn’t think nothing of it.”

I was shocked to find this out but instantly recognized that it was Dana going after me again. She has broken the law that dictates what can and can not be done in blighted areas that have been set up as rental inspection districts. Dana did not have a legally acceptable reason to enter my house due to a neighbors fence. She does not legally have the right to take me to court for the neighbors fence either as she has suggested she will do. This is outright harassment and I now have no other option than to serve her with a trespassing notice. Dana will not be allowed on any of my properties from this date out without me being present and a supervisor accompanying her.

So are these stories highly unusual things that happen when dealing with the Roanoke City Code Enforcement department or are they commonplace? I hear stories every week from our members and am only telling what I have experienced as I am not at liberty to discuss their matters. Most landlords are fearful of saying anything or disturbing the waters as they will end up getting put on the blacklist and will get nailed by all of them on a regular basis. However I am of a different mindset on this matter because someone has to clear the air so landlords in Roanoke City can attempt to change the corporate culture within this city department to be a culture that consists of working together rather than working against. A culture that promotes positive behavior by both the city and the property investor where we can work together to develop solutions to the blight issues we face.

A critical first step to end blight and increase the property values across the city will be to end this negative culture the Code Enforcement Department has developed and working on a positive healthy relationship with property investors so we all see that the city doesn’t hate business anymore. 

Our leadership in the City Council, Mayor and City Manager and Upper Management are not of this mindset however sometimes all of the red tape and various layers of government can make it difficult to see what is going on.


Anonymous said...

the whole Roanoke city code enforcement miss use their power has the one named Chris is has one person pocket that he even harassing all neighbors for has she is racist and making thing up they come running when she calls but i have proven that if you call on her he don't come running but as soon as a call on the black man here they are at the mans door step to the point where she calls on him if hes talking in his own yard shes calling on him and here comes Chris code enforcement but you call on her hes never around to where he cant wipe his own moms car if she visits they say if she spills something on her car that the man cant even offer a rag to clean it up because thats running a businesses which is crap

Anonymous said...

Chris Boehling is who you must be referring to.

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