LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — There are around 1,600 open complaints about suspected housing code violations in Lexington.
Once code enforcement determines there's a violation, they alert the owner and give them a timeline to fix it.
If they don't comply and extensions aren't granted, they'll have a $100 fine to pay that could go up to $2,500 depending on how many violations and citations the property has.
Still, residents have complained that landlords aren't being held accountable for fixing issues– so we took their concerns to Code Enforcement Director Alex Olszowy III.
Olszowy says the number of complaints is down since the pandemic, and his office isn't facing COVID delays or staff shortages.
They will only inspect essential complaints in-person due to COVID-19.
Non-essential inspections are those not considered a health or safety hazard, like a small hole in the wall, flaking paint, or worn carpet.
"We aren't doing non-essential inspections for lack of a better word. If it's not a safety issue, we're saying we'll just let the landlords know. Keep in touch with your tenant. We won't necessarily dismiss your case, but we will not be issuing citations for those kinds of things until further notice," explained Olszowy.
Olszowy says owners are given 60 days, 30 days, or 7 days to fix violations.
This January, a family on Lexington's westside with mold, filed a complaint and the department gave the property owner 60 days to resolve the issue before having to pay a fine.
That family told LEX 18 that timeline is too long because their young children's health is being affected.
When asked about the timeline in general, Olszowy said they don't have much authority to change it. They must follow the rules set out in the city ordinances and state law.
"Sometimes people are just not happy with something but that doesn't necessarily make it a violation of an ordinance," said Olszowy. "We get confused for a lot of things. They just see code enforcement and think we're the clearinghouse to fix anything that has to do with a law. We are in a short section of ordinances charged with our ability to deal with things."
Olszowy says code enforcement does not fix issues themselves, they oversee that the work gets done for the safety of the public.
WHY CASES ARE CANCELLED/UNRESOLVED:
Cases across Lexington can go unresolved for a variety of reasons.
Many cases are closed because Code Enforcement wasn't able to get in touch with the person who made the complaint or the person doesn't answer the door.
Without looking at the suspected violation, they are unable to rule one way or the other.
Owszowy says they'll visit the address three times before they close the unresolved case.
"They didn't really want us in. They just wanted us to get the landlord to do something about fixing something in their apartment. But it doesn't work that way, because our job is validating them in order to get it fixed. We don't take people's words for it. We don't take their pictures. You know, we don't know where that is unless we physically see it and the location in order to process the violations," said Owszowy.
He says 80% of the complaints they get are anonymous.
IS THE SYSTEM WORKING?:
We asked Owszowy if he felt like landlords were being held accountable.
"There's some people I think it works better for than others. I think when we get cooperation, the system works fine. When we have some owners that resist us or don't think we have any business interfering with their business it can cause tension," said Owszowy.
Others say the fines need to increase to provide more of an incentive for owners to follow.