‘A last resort’

Published 11:06 pm Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles about the village of Hobson and the conflict between historic preservation there and the need to provide safe, sanitary living conditions for those who live in the community.

Last month, Edna James received a phone call telling her the home next door to the one she owns in Hobson had been demolished for unaddressed code violations.

Knowing that she had been told by the city there were things she needed to fix on her home, she was worried her home could be next.

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James’ home is one of 30 around the city — nine of them in Hobson — that are marked by the city for having code violations ranging from peeling paint to unsafe structures. Two of Hobson’s homes have been demolished recently for such violations, and two more are on the block. The others, whose violations are not as serious, are under continuing review.

“Demolition is a last resort for us,” said Tim Davis, assistant director of community development. “We understand blood, sweat and tears went into these homes. But public safety is our paramount concern. When it becomes an issue, it is the issue.”

James, who now lives in New Jersey, was raised at 8345 Hudgins Circle and assumed responsibility of the home after her brother, its most recent legal tenant, passed away. Her family has been in Hobson for seven generations.

On July 31, James said, she received a notice of violation from the City of Suffolk.

“There were no specifics,” James said. “There was nothing specific I could reach out and do myself. The letter said something about property maintenance and it being dangerous, unsafe and unsanitary to human life and welfare.”

James said she wasn’t sure what needed to be done and that violations are a fairly common thing in the neighborhood. She wasn’t alarmed by the notification.

After the home next door was demolished by the city in February, however, James gave Suffolk officials a call to figure out what she needed to do.

“I’m not downing my people, but I guarantee 75 percent do not know what they’re doing when they get a notice,” James said. “Besides that, they don’t have the funds. All you’re telling them is that you’re going to destroy their home.”

“But the worst thing someone can do is ignore the problem,” Davis said. “When my department is notified of a violation, we are legally obligated to pursue it.”

Such was the case with the home next door to James’. The home had three years’ worth of violation notices from the city. When the roof caved in, the city took action.

“Community development has been dealing with that home since 2007,” Davis said. “When the roof collapsed, there was no alternative but to have it demolished. We worked very hard to work with owners. Demolition is an absolute last resort.”

Davis explained that his department gets involved when a complaint is made about a home either by a citizen or the police or fire departments.

“We send an inspector within a two-day period,” he said. “We look and see if their property has maintenance issues — such as peeling paint or broken windows — and then try to find the responsible party.”

The party is sent a violation notice and given two weeks to fix the problems or “to call us with a plan to rehab,” he said. “We have given people anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years, depending on their ability to repair. We do not force the issue unless the structure is a public hazard.”

If the department doesn’t hear from the owners, the inspector returns to see if any repairs have been made.

“If we see the problems have been fixed, we’ll put it in a holding pattern,” Davis said. “If all the work has been done, we’ll close the case.”

If nothing has been done, another notice is sent and they check to see if the property has exchanged hands.

But if nothing is done about a property that they consider to be a public hazard, such as being structurally unsound or has a caved-in roof, demolition notices will be sent.

Even after that, Davis said the property is monitored for weeks to years to see if it changes hands or any repairs are made.

If an owner disagrees with the violations there is a board the owner can appeal to.

“When we send a notice that a building is structurally unsound, it’s because it’s evident,” Davis said. “But there is almost always a solution. We’re not consultants, but we can tell people what it could be cost and point them in the right direction.”