The city of Marion will give an elderly couple more time to find a new home now that their dilapidated house has been deemed “a health and safety hazard” and “unfit for human habitation.”
During the Tuesday regular meeting, the Marion City Council heard a case of ejecting the occupants from a house at 503 Baldwin Ave. Charles Owensby, 79, and his wife Mary, 77, live in this house.
Since March of this year, the city of Marion has sought to have this property brought into compliance with the minimum housing standards. The house has been deemed by the city to be “unfit for human habitation” due to the following conditions:
• Unsafe wiring and lack of electricity
• Lack of properly functioning sanitary facilities and presence of raw sewage within the interior
• No working hot water supply
• Connection between oil heater flue pipe and adjoining wall in disrepair
• Significant structural damage and disrepair causing collapse of structure
In March, Jeff Vaughn, the city’s building inspector, first looked at the conditions of the house and notified the Owensbys, who are the owners, that their home was unfit for human habitation. Since then, the city has held an administrative hearing and issued other notices to the Owensbys that their house is in violation of the minimum housing standards rules, according to Planning and Development Director Heather Cotton.
“It is the systems and the structural conditions we are concerned about,” said Cotton to City Council. “We’ve not seen any action taking place.”
On June 7, the city issued an order to vacate and close the house within 30 days after the owners failed to comply with the notice of violation. The timeframe for compliance with the order ended on July 7 and the Owensbys failed to comply, according to Cotton.
At the Tuesday meeting, the City Council was asked to consider removing the couple from their house.
Charles Owensby attended the meeting and answered questions from city of Marion officials.
“The house needs some TLC,” he said. “I don’t deny that.”
Councilwoman Ann Harkey asked if there was another place they can go. Owensby said there wasn’t. He added his wife Mary is bed-ridden and he has to constantly care for her.
Owensby was asked by council if he had any children with whom he and his wife could live. He said he has a daughter living in an apartment but she is not able to take them in. Furthermore, the couple’s income is too high for them to qualify for government assistance.
Council members asked him what he and his wife have for heat in their home. Owensby said they have space heaters and their electricity has never been shut off.
The report by the building inspector describes unsafe and exposed electrical wiring, overloaded electrical connections and loose electrical primary service cable.
“It was my understanding from the inspector that power was not on at the time of the inspection in March,” said Cotton to The McDowell News. “During the administrative hearing in June, Mr. Owensby did not dispute information contained within the building inspector’s report. This was one of many problems, including exposed wiring in multiple locations. The fact that the power is on raises even more concern with the occupants’ safety.”
The report by Vaughn also goes into more detail about the house including:
• A wall falling into a living area
• Missing clapboard siding which exposes insulation and allows the weather to come inside
• A missing gutter that allows water to go into and under the structure
• A broken window, vegetation growing into the house and a tree growing in a doorway
• Large amounts of trash and other waste causing unsanitary conditions
• Lack of potable water causing unsanitary conditions and improper disposal of human waste
In March 2018, the City Council adopted minimum standards for housing in Marion. The rules cover structural conditions, safe and sanitary maintenance, plumbing systems, heating systems, electrical wiring, control of insects and rodents and disposal of garbage. The city’s building inspector would determine if a dwelling is unsafe and represents a threat to life and property if it doesn’t meet the conditions outlined in the ordinance.
City officials said last year they are trying to improve housing conditions in Marion and not make life even more difficult for low-income people. They said previously this ordinance will be complaint driven.
“We operate on a complaint basis,” said City Manager Bob Boyette. “We’ve got multiple calls about this house. There’s nothing more we can do.”
Although the minimum housing standards usually apply to landlords and their rental properties, the Owensbys are different because they own their home.
After hearing about the Owensbys and their situation, council members did not feel like removing them from their house now.
“We should give them more time,” said Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin.
City Council members said they hope someone in the local community can offer a better housing solution for this couple.
“We’re trying,” said Owensby to The McDowell News. “If we can find a place, we’re going to get out.”