On Feb. 2, property owner Joshua Jensen called BCR to say that the homes in question were in bad shape when he purchased them in the fall of 2014, and that he is fixing them up. BCR did call Jensen for comment before the story was posted on Jan. 25, but did not receive a return call until this week.
It is true that the previous owners had been cited; the chain of ownership was already noted in the pdf linked below. We did confirm that the houses at 305 and 307 Bell St. are being repaired. They have been painted. There is a new roof and new windows. The homes are unoccupied.
Since Jensen has begun repairing the homes in the 18 months he has owned them, we have removed the old photos of the Bell Street houses — and his home, since the visual distinction between the two is no longer relevant.
This post also has been updated to include a comment from Cheryl Brown, daughter of Pattie Brown, who owns several properties in this neighborhood.
The drab beige shack at 305 Bell St., near C.C. Spaulding Elementary School, has possibilities. At 1,150 square feet, it could house a family — if it weren't sliced into a duplex. And if there were screens on the windows and doors. And if the walls were intact enough to keep out the vermin. And the floors didn't sag.
This house and hundreds more — including one owned by Durham County Commissioner Michael Page — have been cited by city code enforcement inspectors for serious, and in some cases, life-threatening violations.
Affordable housing advocates have long noted that just because a rental is cheap that doesn't make it safe. Data from the city's Neighborhood Improvement Services department indicates that what could pass for "affordable" — although rental prices are not as widely available as home sale prices because there is no official database of them — are practically unlivable.
City Council last Thursday, Neighborhood Improvement Services Director Constance Stancil discussed code enforcement in the Southside neighborhood near North Carolina Central University. In 2013, the city began its Proactive Rental Inspection Program, which targeted areas with large numbers of rentals. Previously, the city had inspected properties when it received a complaint, but, as expected, tenants are often reluctant to do so for fear of being evicted.
The city can sue and/or fine especially recalcitrant offenders, who also have due process through the Housing Appeals Board.
I asked NIS for inspection data, and I then pulled out the properties in South-Central Durham. I also gave the data to Durham cartographers and coders Tim Stallman and Kosta Harlan, who then developed a city-wide map of every violation for 2013 and 2014. (2015 is forthcoming, and I'll conduct the same analysis on other neighborhoods, so stay tuned.)
This pdf lists the address, landlord, landlord address and the violations for 142 properties in the NCCU neighborhood.
Jenson has not returned a call seeking comment about his properties; nor have a half-dozen other landlords we contacted. However, Durham County Commissioner Michael Page explained the situation at 118 Nelson St., which is a block from NCCU. This is the list of violations at that address:
Entrances exits and heating facilities do not meet standards.
Gutters and downspouts in disrepair, junk and debris, extermination.
Electric wiring, device, appliance or fixture does not meet standards.
Painting, exterior unprotected, paint, interior/exterior peeling, walls, interior contains loose materials.
Bottom garage apartment needs weatherstripping
Unit in garage area is in need of repair, not properly draining and has exposed wires.
Rear dwelling heating unit, rear dwelling storm door needs to be repaired.
Page told BCR that in 2006 when he bought the home, which was built in 1950, "it was old and I had to do repairs." The tenants did not complain, he said, but a neighbor did — about tall grass. When NIS visited the property to investigate the yard situation, code enforcement decided to schedule an inspection for the home. Page said he didn't know about the degree of dilapidation, adding "I'm not a housing expert."
Page declined to say how much he charges for rent, stating "my mortgage payments are personal."
118 Nelson St., owned by Michael Page
702 Basil Drive, home of Michael Page
Cheryl Brown, daughter of Pattie Brown, who owns several cited properties in the neighborhood, says the violations have been corrected. "It's hard being a landlord," she says, especially with tenants who damage the property. Brown says she thinks the enforcement policy is applied unfairly. "There are businesses that are not cited," she says. "I just want the law to be enforced equitably."
A note about the data: These inspections are for 2014; the full 2015 reports are still being processed. BCR also has inspection reports from 2013, the first year PRIP went into effect. However, the violation data did not offer a lot of detail, listing instead "miscellaneous violations." So we did not include those.
Also, the table notes cases where the properties were sold after inspection. The new owners may (or may not) have fixed the homes. When we receive the 2015 reports, we can compare old ownership to new ownership.
Some terminology: Closed, non-voluntary, means the violations have been corrected but they required some level of intervention from the city because the landlord did not fully cooperate.
Open means the case is still under investigation.
Open, judicial means legal action is pending.
What the colors mean: Gold equals out-of-town ownership. Green means the property was inspected in 2013 and was cited for miscellaneous violations. In other words, these are the known repeat offenders.
When available, we inserted a photo of the rental home, taken from the Durham County property records website and the landlord's home, culled from various county tax websites.