Target 12 learns property violations have doubled in 5 years

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Jennifer Ebele is a proud homeowner in Providence. So when she received a letter from the city notifying her of two violations on her single-family home, she was stunned.

“They told me that I needed to paint my foundation because it was chipped and also that my chimney needed some work,” Ebele explained. “I was surprised that the city was going around telling people to do home repairs.”

Ebele says the paint on the foundation was easy enough to fix, but repointing the chimney is not a DIY project. Quotes for the repair work came in between $1,000 and $2,000 – an amount Jennifer says she can’t afford.

“It’s stressful,” she said. “It’s stressful and causes a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights.”

The Target 12 Investigators checked with Providence’s Office of Inspection and Standards, and found Jennifer’s property is part of a significant increase in violations.

In 2011, the city did 875 inspections. There were 3,727 violations, and the city collected $6,000 in fines.

Fast forward to 2015, the city did 1,030 inspections, and the number of violations more than doubled to 7,545. The same year, Providence collected $401,406 in fines.

“There’s always a push from my department to make sure that violations are corrected,” explained Kevin Mahoney, the Deputy Director of the Inspection and Standards Department. “There’s been no look to increase that, but just to go out and make sure people comply with the law on the property.”

Mahoney said most inspections happen in response to a formal complaint.

“It could be lack of heat. It could be windows that don’t shut,” said Mahoney. “It affects everybody in the neighborhood, for the safety of the people that live in it and for the protection of the people that live around it. It’s important for us to issue violations that exist against those properties.”

Though the number of violations has more than doubled over the past five years, the number of violations that have been corrected remains flat.

According to data obtained by Target 12, 2,754 violations were corrected in 2011, and 2,809 violations were corrected in 2015. To put it in perspective, 75 percent of violations were corrected in 2011 while just 37 percent of violations were corrected in 2015.

“Some people comply,” said Mahoney. “Some people, it’s difficult to get them to comply.”

If a property owner doesn’t comply after receiving two notices of violation, the case is forwarded to the solicitor’s office for prosecution. Under state law, the city can fine property owners $50 per day per violation until the violation is fixed. Target 12 asked the city how much money is owed from violations over the past five years. Via email, Target 12 was told our public records request for that information would take 1,000 hours to complete and would cost $15,000.

When asked what happens if someone can’t afford to correct a violation, Mahoney told Target 12, “I would have a conversation with anyone that couldn’t afford to fix the violation that was issued against them and do anything we could in any program that might be available to get them some sort of assistance to fix the violation.”

In Ebele’s case, she had a meeting with city officials. An inspector re-inspected her property, and dismissed the chimney violation.