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Franklin could order occupied structure razed

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The city has ordered that this home on Kentucky Street in Franklin be repaired. If appropriate fixes aren't made, the city has threatened to tear it down.
The city has ordered that this home on Kentucky Street in Franklin be repaired. If appropriate fixes aren't made, the city has threatened to tear it down. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

Franklin is ordering a landlord to repair or tear down a building that was deemed unsafe.

In a rare move, the city is considering the action although people are still living in the four apartments in the building. If the home were to be ordered demolished, the people would then have to leave.

The city’s code enforcement officer found the house at 348 Kentucky St. had leaky ceilings, mold and no working heat during an inspection.

Inspectors also found structural problems with the roof, chimney and exterior walls.

At issue

Repair order: Franklin has ordered the owner of a house at 348 Kentucky St. to either make repairs or tear it down. The house could be demolished if improvements are not made. The building is divided into four apartments with tenants living there.

The problems: Code enforcement officer Rhoni Oliver said the building has several problems including roof leaks, mold and unsealed walls. A former tenant also reported there was no heat in the building at one point.

Next steps: A hearing is set for April 22. Landlords Randy and Debra Baker plan to attend to discuss the issues with city officials.

The city sent the repair order and has set a hearing with the landlord for April to discuss the building’s issues and decide whether to allow the owners to make repairs or start the process to order demolition, code enforcement officer Rhoni Oliver said.

The hearing for the Kentucky Street house is the first one that has been set for a building that was not vacant, Oliver said. The hearing process began in 2010, and repair notices are issued as the city identifies troubled buildings.

Seven or eight properties, including the Kentucky Street house, may be discussed during the April hearing, she said.

Oliver said she identified several safety concerns with the building when a former tenant let her into his apartment in late 2012.

During that visit, she found mold caused by roof leaks, was concerned about walls not guarding against the elements and also said there was no working heat in the apartment at the time.

“From the exterior you can see the chimney is in poor repair. The roof is in poor repair. There is wood that is not properly sealed,” Oliver said.

Raymond Brown, who lives in the home, didn’t know about the city’s order and is concerned about having to find a new home if he is ordered out.

“I’m on a fixed income, and it’d be hard to find another place,” Brown said.

He said his residence doesn’t have the problems identified by the city.

The landlords, Randy and Debra Baker, don’t think the house is unsafe and say it should not be torn down.

Debra Baker said the building needs some repairs but has no issues that were putting people in danger.

The couple have been through a similar process before with a home they owned in Greenwood.

The county health department began a process in 2006 to condemn an apartment building owned by the Bakers. But the couple made repairs, tenants were allowed to stay and the building was not demolished, county health department director John Bonsett said.

A similar resolution may be reached in this case. The Bakers plan to come to the hearing to discuss the issues outlined by the city. And city officials are willing to work with property owners in order to see improvements, Oliver said.

“It’s not easy for me to tear down someone’s house, nor should it be. They’re ordered to make repairs; and as long as they make repairs, we work with them. If for some reason they would not make the proper repairs, it is possible that the city would recommend or request vacating the property,” she said.

Franklin City Court Judge Kim VanValer presides over the unsafe property hearings and makes a decision on how the city should proceed.

Demolition is the last step if no improvements are made and isn’t requested if a property owner is making an effort to improve the condition of the building, VanValer said.

Safety is the most important factor she considers, VanValer said, and that could be looked at more in this case since the house is occupied and potentially putting tenants in danger.

Oliver is preparing a list of code violations and will send them to the Bakers before the hearing.

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