In July, a family approached Covington Code Enforcement Officer Wayne Mayberry with a problem. The house they were renting for more than $800 a month had fallen into disrepair, and they wondered if Mayberry could help get the problems fixed.
When Mayberry went out to see the house in Covington’s West 30s neighborhood, he found broken windows with rags stuffed in them and a dryer-vent hole in the wall in the washing area.
The bathroom, the kitchen and the living room all had mold and mildew. The house had no air conditioning or heating, and the temperature inside was close to 100 degrees, Mayberry estimated.
He immediately told the family they had to leave the house. He had it boarded up and had the water and electricity turned off. He notified the owners they would not be allowed to rent it out again until it had been brought up to code.
“It was just a pitiful thing,” he said.
According to Mayberry, houses like that one are all too common in Covington.
“It has been a serious problem,” he said. “We have houses now with no heating, no air conditioning and holes in the structure.”
The problems are especially acute in the West 30s, once a thriving African-American neighborhood with its own bars, restaurants and stores. Over the past several decades, though, the neighborhood — roughly bounded by West 25th Avenue, Kirkland Street and Collins Boulevard — has declined, and it is now more known for poverty, joblessness and crime.
The West 30s stands in sharp contrast to the 9,300-resident city’s lively downtown and quaint historic district just blocks away, where the owners of the newly opened Southern Hotel spent more than $11 million to turn the decrepit century-old property into a luxury boutique hotel.
Bringing redevelopment to the West 30s, however, has been difficult. In 2010, a report commissioned by the Northshore Community Foundation identified several steps that could be taken to improve conditions in the neighborhood, including reducing blight and creating some standards for rental property.
In 2011, the city hired its first code enforcement officer and began an ambitious program to reduce the number of blighted properties. That program has had some success — more than five dozen structures have been demolished — but it hasn’t gone far enough for some city leaders. The next step, they decided, was to go after slumlords, the owners who allow their rental properties to deteriorate beyond a livable state.
To do that, some City Council members are crafting an ordinance that would require landlords to register every rental unit with the city. In addition, landlords would have to inspect each unit before renting it to a new tenant and submit a report to the city, according to a draft copy of the ordinance.
But the proposed ordinance takes it a step further: If a complaint about a property comes in and the city finds that the condition of the property is different from what was reported on the self-inspection form, the city would have the right to inspect all of that landlord’s properties in Covington.
In interviews last week, Councilmen John Callahan and Lee Alexius cautioned, however, that the proposal is still in the drafting stage and has not been finalized for presentation to the council.
Callahan, whose district includes the West 30s, Alexius and some other city officials are sitting as a committee to draft the final proposal.
When the draft is ready, the committee plans to hold public meetings to get input from landlords and residents.
Frances Dunn, a former councilwoman who lives in the West 30s, praised the idea but said the city still has a long way to go.
“I think the city is trying to take the first step,” she said.
Mayberry said the law could help prevent what he saw in July.
“We are trying to bring up the standards of living for our community and make sure our landlords comply,” he said. “We are not going to put up with it anymore.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.