Judge Rules Lin­coln Apart­ment Un­safe


Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - NEWS - By Scar­let Sims

FAYETTEVILLE — A Washington County Cir­cuit Court judge told the owner of a Lin­coln apart­ment com­plex to re­pair or tear down the prop­erty in the next 30 days.

Judge Doug Martin re­viewed more than 40 pho­tos of the prop­erty and said, “This is no place for chil­dren or adults to be liv­ing.”

Martin said Lin­coln of­fi­cials are right to call apart­ments at 119 N. Carter St. a nui­sance and fire trap.

City at­tor­ney Steve Zega pre­sented the ev­i­dence against the prop­erty owner at a pre­trial con­dem­na­tion hear­ing held last week, April 18.

About 15 fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing chil­dren and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, live in the apart­ments, at­tor­neys said. If the court al­lows the city to con­demn and raze it, those ten­ants will be­come home­less, said Larry McCredy, an at­tor­ney for prop­erty owner James Ste­wart.

Ste­wart rents apart­ments for about $400 a month, ac­cord­ing to court records.

“It still is home to a num­ber of peo­ple,” McCredy said.

No ten­ants at­tended the hear­ing.

Ste­wart’s at­tor­neys said the city should have named the ten­ants as a party to the law­suit be­cause they stand to lose their homes. Zega said the city didn’t have ac­cess to the lessees. Lin­coln of­fi­cials only want the prop­erty made safe, he said.

The two-story com­plex has fallen into dis­re­pair un­til the en­tire struc­ture now needs re­placed, Zega said.

City of­fi­cials in­spected the com­plex in Fe­bru­ary af­ter some­one com­plained about its con­di­tion, said Jeff Hutch­e­son, city build­ing in­spec­tor. The 37-year-old com­plex is about 10,000 square feet and worth about $173,000, ac­cord­ing to county prop­erty records.

Zega told Martin about a bro­ken win­dow, trash and de­bris, leaks and mold, fail­ing electrical out­lets, lack of plumb­ing ven­ti­la­tion and dys­func­tional heat­ing and air units, among other items. The build­ing has de­te­ri­o­rated to the point the en­tire build­ing must be brought up to code, Hutch­e­son said.

Among the big­gest con­cerns is fire, said Jay Nor­ton, fire ad­min­is­tra­tor for the Lin­coln Fire Depart­ment. The build­ing has no fire walls or sprin­klers, city of­fi­cials said.

The bal­cony to ac­cess the up­per apart­ments is so un­sta­ble that should a fire break out the bal­cony would quickly col­lapse, trap­ping peo­ple, Nor­ton said. The vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers wouldn’t be able to put out a fast-mov­ing fire or get to peo­ple fast enough, es­pe­cially at night, Nor­ton said.

The bal­cony is so dan­ger­ous that fire­fight­ers low­ered the amount of weight al­lowed on the bal­conies about six months ago, Nor­ton said.

“We’ve been con­cerned for some time about when we were go­ing to have to dig some­one out of this struc­ture,” Nor­ton said.

The con­dem­na­tion case will pro­ceed to trial but no court date was set Wed­nes­day, Zega said. In the mean­time, Ste­wart must tear down the com­plex, fix it or ap­peal the judge’s de­ci­sion.

Ste­wart’s at­tor­neys said they had no com­ment af­ter the rul­ing. Zega said Ste­wart can ap­peal Martin’s rul­ing, but Lin­coln of­fi­cials want some­thing done quickly.

“Every day that there is not some ac­tion to fix this build­ing is a day of risk of un­fath­omable, un­godly death,” Zega said.

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