Two aldermen say there is a loophole in city ordinances that allows individuals to occupy houses without obtaining an occupancy permit.
They say illegal activities are taking place in some residences that are illegally occupied and neither the police nor the code enforcement officer appears to be empowered to remove the individuals.
Speaking at the Nov. 2 board meeting, Alderman Carol Johnson questioned why the code enforcement officer cannot act to remove squatters from residential properties.
With Mayor Jeff Palmore absent, Johnson was acting as president of the board and chaired the meeting.
Johnson said she wants a job description for the code enforcement officer that requires him to issue a summons to an illegally occupied property, but Alderman Steve Myers, who chairs the administrative committee, said a job description is not the correct vehicle to use in that instance.
Myers said the administrative committee is currently writing job descriptions for all city employees, but they do not spell out day-to-day activities of the individual.
Alderman Mike Pigg said ordinances should be changed to authorize the city to shut off water service when no occupancy permit exists.
But Myers said there are times when individuals need water to a property prior to occupying the structure.
“If the property is under development and they’re working in there, they need water,” he said.
Pigg asked whether there could be temporary use of water in unoccupied houses to prevent illegal use of the property.
Both Johnson and Pigg said they had been plagued with citizen complaints from neighbors of one house in particular where individuals are obviously inside, but have no permit to be there.
Neighbors say there is continual drug activity in the house.
“The neighbors told me that in a recent drug bust at the site both the property owner and renter were taken out in handcuffs,” Pigg said. “But people were soon back in the house. The neighbors are concerned.”
City Attorney Robert Jones said if a summons is issued for occupying a building without a permit the matter would go to municipal court. He said in another city he had filed charges in municipal court against individuals illegally occupying property.
“But if the property is owned by a corporation there is no one to serve in order to get them into court,” Jones said.
City Administrator Steve Roth, who oversees the activities of the code enforcement officer, said aldermen needed to have a discussion on their expectations and determine how to apply more aggressive tactics.
Roth said when he is made aware of a possible code violation, such as occupying a property without a permit, he directs the code enforcement officer to investigate.
“But ultimately it is his call whether or not to issue a summons,” Roth said.
Johnson and Pigg argued for a change in either city ordinances or the code enforcements duties to give the city power to force individuals out of illegally occupied properties.
“Let’s look at where we’re at. What are the roadblocks?” Johnson said. “What do we need to do?”
Pigg questioned the lack of police authority to act on illegal occupancy.
“What is the reason that Matt (Police Chief Matt Mansell) is not involved in occupancy permits?” Pigg said. “There should be a cause and effect. If you break our rules there will be consequences.”
Jones said he would speak with the police chief and city administrator and report back to aldermen.