City cracks down on property code violations

By Morgan Fink

DeKALB — A total of 360 citations have been issued in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood after DeKalb officials took action on property code violations.

City officials are pursuing properties with significant numbers of life-safety violations that could harm residents, according to a Nov. 30 press release. Two court actions have been initiated to continue this effort.

“Our code enforcement efforts will be focused on those properties which present the greatest risk to public safety and welfare,” said City Manager Anne Marie Guara in the press release. “The city has worked diligently to encourage property owners to maintain their properties responsibly, and when those efforts fail, the city has no choice but to take legal action.”

There are a number of code violations at locations operated by Hunter Properties, owned by Sam Okner. Hunter Properties owns multiple DeKalb properties, including the Lincoln Tower Apartments, 1100 West Lincoln Highway, and apartments at 808 Ridge Drive.

The city obtained search warrants in March to inspect the Hillcrest Shopping Center, located on the 1000 block of Hillcrest Drive. It was discovered there were fire exits locked shut, broken floor joists and structural deterioration, fire and safety hazards, deteriorated exterior walls and mold and water infiltration, according to the press release.

The city gave the owner a timeline to complete repairs, but they failed to comply with the agreement.

“The city will continue to ensure that properties are maintained and safe,” said Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton in the press release. “If owners seek to work with the city, we will use every resource available to collaborate and support reinvestment and maintenance. If owners do not choose to maintain their properties, then the code enforcement abilities of the city will be brought to bear on any properties that are unsafe for our residents and students.”

Conditions at the shopping center are similar to the conditions at the Hunter Tri-Frat building, 1024 Hillcrest Drive, and other properties located at 511 Normal Road, where code violations were also discovered.

City officials also executed a search warrant at the former Campus Cinemas, 1015 Blackhawk Drive, after discovering the building’s roof was partially collapsed. The warrant was obtained after the owner of the property denied the city permission to enter the location. Water damage and mold were also found at the property.

The owner of the property has not filed documentation for building permits and has not started any repair work. The city has filed a lawsuit to condemn and demolish this structure.

“The city wishes to make clear that we support those responsible property owners who maintain their investment in this city as safe and comfortable locations for our residents and students,” Mayor Jerry Smith said in the press release. “However, the city will use every legal resource available to address properties that deteriorate or which become unsafe.”

These code enforcement efforts are placed to improve conditions in the community to avoid the impact that rundown properties have on crime. In the past two months, there have been three gun violence incidents. Each of these incidents was in an area that would have been under video surveillance based upon the cameras installed at the properties, according to the press release.

Hunter Properties has not maintained camera systems, though video cameras are not legally required to be installed. Non-functional cameras are emblematic of other failures to maintain the properties as evidenced by the number and severity of code violations identified, according to the press release.

“The presence of security cameras at multi-unit residential and commercial properties is a key resource in combating violent crime in our community,” said DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery in the press release. “When properties are not maintained to an acceptable standard, they become inviting targets for crime. The police department will work with all city departments to support the efforts to enforce city codes and ordinances and ensure a safe environment, as one of the many approaches we are undertaking to keep this city safe.”

Okner declined comment. Charlton did not respond to request for comment.