JC Vision Executive Director Dana Ingram addressed several complaints about housing issues at the July 21 Hinesville City Council meeting.
“I’m here to bring a community concern to your attention,” Ingram said. “JC Vision has received several complaints about housing providers and their rental practices within the past six to 12 months. Young families are moving into dilapidated housing after securing the place with a significant down payment — sometimes $2,500 to $7,000 all at once.
“The idea is that the resident is purchasing the home. The home is in very bad condition. The housing provider states that the resident has 90 days to make the repairs. If that is accomplished, the housing provider will relinquish the title to the resident.”
But Ingram said that during the 90-day repair period, the resident is a tenant under a bogus rent-to-own deal and must pay monthly lot and rental fees. The agreement is extended if the resident does not complete the repairs in the 90-day period.
Ingram explained that if the resident contacts the owner regarding major life-threatening maintenance such as electrical issues, appliance malfunctions and plumbing issues, the provider will not make the repairs.
“That is when the resident comes to JC Vision and Associates,” Ingram said. “We examined the agreement on its face, and it’s a tenant-landlord agreement. Therefore, we suggest that they go to code enforcement for an inspection. When code enforcement conducts their inspection, the housing provider states that the resident owns the property, therefore the housing provider is not responsible for the repairs.”
But Ingram said Georgia tenant-landlord laws state otherwise.
“When code enforcement completes its report identifying the hazards and notifies the housing provider of the finds, the housing provider begins pursuing an eviction through the court as a form of retaliation,” Ingram explained. “If the resident is a client of JC Vision, then we will advance or advocate for the resident as a witness during the court proceedings.”
But Ingram said not all residents that have transacted with this housing provider have sought their help.
“Unfortunately, the magistrate court is not always aware on all the true facts of the case, and may issue a writ of possession,” Ingram said.
Ingram said she wanted to bring this up before the mayor and council because this housing provider is tying up valuable resources within her company and city code enforcement and to address possible violation of state and local laws.
“Looking at the paperwork presented by the residents, the sales of the housing units are not being reported according to the law of sales of rental units,” Ingram said. “Therefore, the city, county and state may be missing possible sales revenue from the transactions.
“Unfortunately, the housing provider is very comfortable in conducting these types of transactions, and they have bought two additional housing areas and are utilizing the same pattern and practice scheme at those housing areas. JC Vision is asking for a review.”
She said they are conning many residents, who are often left homeless and with an eviction on record while the housing providers rack up tax-free money and keep repeating the process.
When asked by Councilwoman Vicky Nelson if she could identify the housing provider, Ingram said she would not, due to pending litigation. She did mention Eagles Creek.
“We’ve all talked about this,” said Councilman Karl Riles. “All over, not just in this district. We haven’t had a workshop in a while, and Mr. (Kenneth) Howard, I want you to put this on the list, and we need to plan one really quickly. I’d like to invite Ms. Ingram back to that. To speak to us in more detail, as much as she can.”
Riles said the situation sounded dire and required immediate attention.
Mayor and council also discussed a situation brought to their attention by Allen White, owner of Negril Caribbean Restaurant.
White said he was told by the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission that his restaurant required an asphalt paved parking lot, but when he planned to also run a flea market in the adjacent lot, the LCPC said he could put down crush-and-run gravel.
White said he no longer plans to run the flea market, but LCPC now states he must have asphalt paving. He said he can’t afford to put in asphalt, which has prevented him from opening the restaurant, and he’s been working out of his food truck. He is seeking assistance from mayor and council on the matter.
Mayor Allen Brown said they couldn’t take action on the matter now because it wasn’t on the agenda as an action item.
Councilman Riles said placing asphalt requires taking other things into account, such as water runoff. He said the city could look at other options for small businesses like Negril Caribbean Restaurant to make it easier for them to operate.
City Manager Kenneth Howard and LCPC Executive Director Jeff Ricketson both said the current ordinance is clear and requires asphalt paving. Howard said if the council wanted to address the ordinance, they could. Howard said he would meet with White to review options.