City councilman says Minimum Housing Ordinance changes not enough

It’s been a decade since Charlotte City Council has made any changes to its Minimum Housing Ordinance, but that changed at their Monday night meeting. 

This comes after dozens of investigations into code violations at Lake Arbor Apartments. A number of city council members blamed city staff for allowing Lake Arbor to get to the disaster state that it’s in.

“I don’t think we can just staff just to do an excellent job because they haven’t to this point,” councilman Braxton Winston said.

The changes include an increase in civil penalties for units with violations from $100 the first day after non-compliance and $10 each additional day to $100 per day beginning the day after non-compliance.

Let’s say a complex like Lake Arbor has 300 units out of compliance for an entire month. Their fines would climb from $120,000 to now $930,000.

Lake Arbor’s landlord, Robert Wolf, based out of Brooklyn, NY, kicked all tenants out after they spoke up about their living conditions.

Attorney Erik Rosenwood said Lake Arbor plans to fix all the units after getting tenants to move out but he has ignored FOX 46’s repeated requests for an interview.

Charlotte City Councilman Ed Driggs described two phases of the Lake Arbor debacle.

“Phase 1 was the process to which it was allowed to deteriorate to the point where it was an embarrassment to us as a city,” Driggs said. “Point 2, however, was when we reacted to that, everyone got evicted.

“So that’s an illustration of the dilemma when it comes to doing something like this and I think we wrestled with that, back and forth between how do you improve the conditions at these apartments and not create a gentrification problem.”

Additional changes include the strengthening of Standards of Fitness for Places of Habitation regarding items such as space and use (interior doors and door hardware), light and ventilation, plumbing, heating facilities, structural, property maintenance for cabinetry and clothes dryers and requiring existing cooling systems to be operational and maintained.

Winston, however, believes the changes are not enough.

"I still think we have a lot more work to do," Winston said. 

Winston's motion to continue council's discussions on minimum housing ordiances in committee meetings was denied by council on Monday.

"My concern is that we'll throw our hands up and say, hey, we did something good," Winston said. "This is not a mission accomplished situation. We have not done anything to prevent more Lake Arbors. These are good changes, they are good changes, it's just not enough."

City Council has not made changes to the ordiance in more than 10 years. These changes take effect Jan. 1, 2020.