Judge Rules Lincoln Apartment Unsafe
OWNER HAS 30 DAYS TO REPAIR OR DEMOLISH STRUCTURE
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.