Tenant unable to get landlord to fix safety issues in rental home

Michelle Starks
Michelle Starks
Jim Mims
Jim Mims

By Eric Flack – bio | e-mail
Posted by Charles Gazaway - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A family living in a home riddled with health and safety issues turned to us after they didn't get the help they need from the Louisville Metro government.

Michelle Starks says this house in Old Louisville is virtually crumbling down around her family.

"The walls coming down over here," Starks said as she pointed to a section of wall cracking from the floor up.

Starks lives in the home with her daughter Erica, and her 23-month-old grandson, Darrius.

"I can't say the words that I want, to but it's bad," said Erica. "It's the worst place I have ever lived in my whole life."

The window sill next to Darrius' crib is covered in mice droppings. The mice come in through the holes in the walls. And that's not even the worst of the problems.

"This plug right here has no prongs now," Starks said while holding up an electrical cord that melted in a faulty electrical outlet. The outlet literally shoots sparks when you try and plug something in. There are also leaks in the ceiling and no furnace, although those issues have taken a back seat to the fire hazards.

Starks said it is all she can afford after losing her job last summer.

"I've never had to live like this," said Starks while breaking down in tears. "It was supposed to be only 30 days or whatever, and it ended up being almost a year, and we can't get out."

According to Starks, the landlord refuses to fix anything and Louisville Metro code inspectors have not followed through on a pledge to force the landlord into action. In fact, the city inspector didn't even show up for an appointment with Starks a couple weeks ago. Now, the city says the inspector called in sick that day.

At times, Starks says it feels like nobody cares.

"No, nobody does," Starks said, "but you now."

We called the landlord, but he refused to talk to us about the problems. So we turned to the Louisville Metro government.

"What we need to do is to try and correct the events that led to this over sight, and try and do better the next time," said Jim Mims, director of Department of Codes and Regulations.

Mims said the property owner has been cited and fined a number of times before Starks and her family moved in. Mims also said that inspectors have made a few attempts to come out in response to Starks' complaints, but couldn't get inside because no one was home. Because Starks can't afford a home phone, they weren't able to get back in touch with her to reschedule.

"We have 10 to 12,000 open cases at any given time," Mims told us. "And while we hate for even one of them, for even one citizen, one client of ours, to be overlooked, it is going to happen."

In response to our story, the city did send an inspector out to the Starks' home. The inspector cited the home for 18 different landlord violations, including lead paint, which is especially dangerous to someone as young as Darrius, who turns two later this month.

The inspector wrote that some of the problems date back to February 2009. But finally, things are starting to get done. City inspectors have now forced the landlord to fix the outlets. And he is supposed to patch up holes in the foundation to keep the mice out next. While Starks knows her home will never be a palace, she also knows it shouldn't be a danger.

The city has given the landlord until May 7 to fix all the problems. But sources within City Hall say they often struggle getting owners of buildings that need repair to follow through, even after they are cited for violations. That is because Kentucky law favors property owners, making it very hard for the city to take significant action even when a property is left to fall into complete disrepair.

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