City inspecting student housing
HUNTINGTON -- Thousands of Marshall University students call Huntington their home for 10 months of the year, and the safety of those Jewel City residents is the subject of a renewed focus from the city officials.
The City of Huntington began conducting detailed inspections of student housing near Marshall's campus on Thursday after concerns from university students and officials were brought to Mayor Steve Williams during a series of meeting with groups on campus throughout the year.
Williams said city officials waited until the end of the regular academic year to begin the inspections to give landlords time to comply with any safety codes or regulations while fewer students were in the area.
"There's not any other area of town where you know people are going to move in and out regularly," Williams said. "Everywhere else it's 24 hours a day, 12 months a year. Near Marshall University, we know students move out in large numbers in May, and they move back in large numbers in August. We have a window here we don't have anywhere else."
The mayor has enlisted the Fire Marshal's office, the code enforcement unit of the Huntington Police Department and the city's public works department to prioritize the areas between 14th and 20th streets and 3rd and 7th avenues in the immediate future.
The inspectors will be looking at things like electrical and sewage systems, and the structural stability of each property. They also will look for issues including overgrown yards or properties filled with trash.
The goal is to focus on the safety of student-residents, and at least one landlord said he is in favor of the inspections.
Ned Jones is the owner of Greentree Apartments along 6th Avenue, just a few hundred feet from campus. He said his apartment complexes are inspected annually by his insurance company, and he said his complex and his tenants only could benefit from having someone else take a look at the properties.
"I don't believe it's bad at all," Jones said. "Having another set of eyes is not a problem. If we have a problem in the building, we want to fix it. Not all landlords are good landlords, and not all tenants are good tenants. It's about making sure everyone is doing what they're supposed to do."
If landlords are found to not be in compliance, they could face fines, but they all will be given the opportunity to correct whatever issues may be found before students return for classes in August.
If the issues aren't corrected, then the students who may be living in the properties could have to vacate, which would be a last resort, said Bryan Chambers, director of communications for the city.
"If the landlord shows they are willing to work on the problem, that is what we're looking for," Chambers said. "If it's corrected in seven to 10 days, and the problem is fixed, obviously it's not going to be deemed uninhabitable. It does depend on the specific deficiency. The inspectors are going to use common sense."
The issues that can deem a property uninhabitable include a property without a proper fire alarm system, structural deficiencies or an inoperable sewage system, Chambers said.
Forcing a student to vacate a property would be a last resort scenario, Chambers said, but the city also has available resources to help students find new housing in the event they are forced to leave their residences.
Chambers said a statistical rundown of the first round of inspections will be made available next week.
The inspections are part of a renewed effort from the city to pay closer attention to rental properties.
One of Williams' first acts as mayor in 2013 was to propose a rental property registry in Huntington through which landlords would pay a fee of $50 per rental unit owned to pay for the cost of hiring an additional code enforcement officer to inspect properties.
After landlords voiced their opinions against the fee, the measure was dropped, although they still were required to register with the city.
Williams said he hopes to revisit the matter of restoring consistency to the inspections of rental properties with City Council in the near future with the goal of having every rental property in the city is inspected at least every three years.
In the immediate future, Williams said his focus is on making sure the city ensures the safety of students to the best of its ability.
"Marshall is Huntington, and Huntington is Marshall," Williams said. "We have such a large student body that lives in our community. They have every reason to expect that the services we provide are to provide as safe housing as anyone living permanently in the city does. We also want to send the message to parents who aren't here that they know when they send their child to school, we are doing everything we can to make sure their child is safe and everyone is safe."
Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.
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