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DeKalb’s code enforcement seeks help on blighted property

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One DeKalb County commissioner called the remains of Waverly Place Apartments a “mini-Brannon Hills” while touring through the remains of what used to be an apartment complex on the outskirts of the city of Clarkston.

 The complex, located at 680 Waverly Place in unincorporated DeKalb just behind Indian Creek Elementary, is a situation DeKalb code enforcement officials are all too familiar with. However, the process of remedying the situation is at a standstill, according to DeKalb County Code Enforcement administrator Tonza Clark.

 Clark said code enforcement is seeking help from the administration and the county’s legal department to see what steps can be taken on the blighted property.

 “It’s a very difficult situation and we’re actually calling on our law department [for help],” Clark said. “We’re actually putting together a task force. We need some help. We’ve hit a brick wall and we can’t move forward because of state law.”

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A final notice of violation posted on a burned support beam at a Waverly Place apartment complex.

 Because the complex is considered private property, despite its conditions, Clark said the owners still have rights to the area. Clark also said code enforcement wants to put the property in rem—a legal process that uses public money to demolish a property. The process will require taxpayer money, litigation and a court order.

 “Taxpayers have to pay for that. Number one, we really don’t have the resources, and number two, do the taxpayers want us using their money to clean up someone else’s stuff. That’s the challenge,” Clark said. “We are engaging in conversations trying to figure out a solution. We have not neglected it, contrary to belief. We are trying to find a way around state law.”

 One of the issues is identifying and finding the multiple owners of the property, Clark said. As well as getting permission from a Superior Court judge to go on private property and demolish the building. Clark said the cost of litigation will vary based on the number of attorneys needed and the hourly rate they charge, among other factors. She did note the process would be “very expensive.”

 In September of last year, Chester Meisel—owner of the blighted Creekside Forest Apartment Complex in DeKalb—was issued a $338,000 bench warrant from a DeKalb County judge for his failure to clean up his property.

 During a press conference to announce a code enforcement sweep around Moreland Avenue April 12,

CEO Michael Thurmond said new legislation awaiting the Governor’s signature may help DeKalb County in its blighted property issues.

 “It will give jurisdictions like DeKalb a much greater opportunity to identify and seek court remedies and ultimately eliminate blighted residential and or commercial properties,” Thurmond said.

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DeKalb County code enforcement officials said the department is working on a resolution for the blighted property located at 680 Waverly Place.

 Georgia House Bill 434, which the House sent to the Governor’s office on April 5, would shorten the time municipalities must wait to convert a property after acquiring a property through eminent domain. Currently law states, “All condemnations shall not be converted to any use other than a public use for 20 years from the initial condemnation.”

If the county acquires a property through eminent domain, HB 434 would reduce that time to five years instead of 20 years after initial condemnation.

 “If this law is signed by the governor, we will be very aggressive moving forward to addressing issues such as blighted properties,” Thurmond said.

 Clark said dealing with blighted properties is a complicated issue that takes time because each owner of the property is allowed due process under the law.

 “We have to give people due process. So with that being said, we can’t force anyone or make someone clean up their property. We have to take them to court. First, we have to locate them to even get them into court,” Clark said. “When they get to court and the judge orders, they still may not clean up the property. The missing part that we have to do a better job with is educating the residents on what we do so we can partner and share information.”

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