Jail time possible
Madison landlords found ‘in contempt of court order’
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
The City of Madison has sent a message to landlords who do not keep properties up to city code—you could do jail time.
Municipal Judge Charles Merritt last week found the principals of Ervin Enterprises, LLC, in contempt of a January court order outlining a required series of repairs at the Canterbury Apartments on Sulgrave Road in Madison. Betty Ervin and her son, Michael Ervin, were sentenced to 15 days in jail, but the sentence is being held in abeyance until October. If the required repairs are complete at that time, the owners will not serve jail time.
The original consent order was handed down January 4, and the city court last week found that the owners of the apartments have not made sufficient progress on a 150-item list of repairs to the housing units, leading to the contempt charge. Court documents say two apartments in the Canterbury complex were “unfit for human habitation” and 14 others required a laundry list of repairs to bring them up to code. Repairs have not progressed as quickly as the city would like since court proceedings began last January.
“The judge ordered [Ervin Enterprises, LLC] to have all work completed by October 15 at 5 p.m., and if not he was sending them to jail for…15 days,” said Morgan County Planning an Zoning Director Chuck Jarrell, who handles building inspections for the City of Madison. “The city would then take over the apartments and put a lien against the property.”
The Ervins, for their part, say that the city gave them no warning of their January court date.
“They served papers on us about a court hearing [in January]…they gave us no warning, no nothing,” said Michael in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I personally just think the city’s trying to make an example of us…I think their ordinance officer is overzealous.”
According to court documents, the city filed an “Abate Nuisance” complaint regarding Canterbury Apartments in November of 2007, and the county building inspector first gained access to the apartments in December of that year. The county planning and zoning office had received complaints about the apartment complex as early as April 2007, according to Jarrell, but could not gain access to the apartments because no resident made an apartment available. After gaining admittance and inspecting one apartment in December 2007, however, Jarrell notified the landlords that he would require access to the entire complex.
Jarrell subsequently filed documents proclaiming two of Canterbury’s 16 units as unfit for habitation. He turned this documentation over to the city, which then decided to take the Ervins to court to compel them to make repairs to the units.
According to Jarrell, the Ervins had 90 days from their January 4 court date to complete a four-page list of repairs to the complex, comprising some 150 separate items. The defendants filed for and received an extension to that order in the spring.
Then Jarrell investigated yet another complaint at Canterbury in June of this year—a bathroom ceiling had collapsed in an apartment. Back in court on August 15, there were still more than 50 items on the Ervins’ to-do list that had not been completed, leading to the contempt charge and tbe October deadline.
Madison Mayor Tom DuPree said that it’s unfortunate that the situation had to go to court.
“Nobody likes to go through the courts, but sometimes you have to do that,” said DuPree. “We need landlords that provide modest-priced housing, but we need landlords to provide modest-priced housing that is safe…for families,” said DuPree.
The list of required repairs to the apartments, according to court documents, includes items as varied as removal of exposed wiring and painted-over receptacles, to repair of sagging floor joists and water damage, to removal of mold, mildew, and roaches. In addition, all broken windows in the complex must be repaired; windows must open and close; window must have working locks; and windows must be screened.
“The purpose of the entire action is to address the safety and health issues…at the complex,” said City of Madison solicitor Lee Moss. “The city is making sure that the citizens’ welfare is protected.”
Ervin says that the city is making an example out of him.
“There’s a lot worse places in the city than our place,” said Michael Ervin. “I just want to know what’s being done about them.”