Covington may crack down on landlords of blighted properties

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COVINGTON, Louisiana — In July, a family approached Covington Code Enforcement Officer Wayne Mayberry with a problem.

The house they were renting for more than $800 a month had fallen into disrepair. They wanted help to get it fixed.

When Mayberry went out to see the house in Covington's West 30s neighborhood, he found broken windows with rags stuffed in them. There was mold in the bathroom, kitchen and living room. The house didn't have air conditioning or heating, Mayberry said.

Mayberry said the family had to leave the house. He had it boarded up and utilities turned off, then notified the owners they would not be allowed to rent it out again until repairs were made.

"It was just a pitiful thing," he told The New Orleans Advocate (http://bit.ly/1pDKN6Q).

Mayberry said such houses are all too common in Covington.

The problems are acute in the West 30s, once a thriving African-American neighborhood with its own businesses. Over the past several decades, though, the neighborhood has been in decline.

The West 30s stands in sharp contrast to the 9,300-resident city's lively downtown and historic district just blocks away, where owners of the newly opened Southern Hotel spent more than $11 million to turn the decrepit century-old property into a luxury hotel.

Bringing redevelopment to the West 30s, however, has been difficult. In 2010, a report by the Northshore Community Foundation identified possible steps to improve conditions, including creating standards for rental property.

In 2011, the city hired its first code enforcement officer. The blight program has had some success — more than 60 structures have been demolished. But some city leaders want more action. The next step, they said, is to deal with landlords who allow their properties to seriously deteriorate.

Some City Council members are crafting an ordinance that would require landlords to register every rental unit with the city. In addition, landlords would have to inspect each unit before renting it to a new tenant and submit a report to the city, according to a draft copy of the ordinance.

But the proposed ordinance takes it a step further. If a complaint about a property is received and the city finds its condition is different from what was reported on the self-inspection form, the city would have the right to inspect all of that landlord's properties in Covington.

Councilmen John Callahan and Lee Alexius said the proposal is still in the draft stage and is not ready for presentation to the council.

When the draft is ready, Callahan and other committee members plan to hold public meetings to take comment from landlords and residents.

Mayberry said the law could help prevent conditions like he saw at the house in July.

"We are trying to bring up the standards of living for our community and make sure our landlords comply," he said. "We are not going to put up with it anymore."


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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