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Mayoral candidate accuses City Council of co-opting housing reform initiative

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Damon Krane

Socialist candidates running for local government positions claim City Council is negligent in punishing delinquent landlords.

An Athens socialist candidate running for office took to the podium at City Council on Tuesday, charging that members of the body hijacked his progressive housing reform proposal for political gain.

City Council heard a proposed ordinance during the meeting that would amend the city housing regulations to increase the penalties for landlords who neglect to perform maintenance on rental properties. Earlier this year, Damon Krane, a mayoral candidate and self-described democratic socialist, announced his “operation slumlord smackdown” initiative, which offered solutions for improving housing quality in Athens.

Krane, along with socialist Ellie Hamrick, an at-large City Council candidate, reiterated their concerns to the council about insufficient housing regulations and a lack of code enforcement in Athens.

“At first glance, I think this ordinance sounds great,” Krane said. “It’s what Hamrick and I have been campaigning on for the past six months, so I’m happy we’ve been changing city policy for the better.”

The council will vote on the housing reform ordinance in two weeks.

Currently, any homeowner in Athens found to be in violation of city housing regulation is subject to a minor misdemeanor offense and $100 fine, with each day of inaction being met by an additional $100 penalty per day, per violation, according to city code.

The proposed ordinance would keep the $100 per violation per day of delinquency on facility maintenance. It would also increase the penalty on the next offense within two years to a fourth degree misdemeanor ($250 fine and potentially 30 days in jail); the next offense could become a third degree misdemeanor, doubling the penalties.

The ordinance is a way to encourage delinquent or negligent landlords to fix their properties, City Law Director Lisa Eliason said. 

“We don’t have a debtors’ prison, so we can’t put them there,” Eliason said. “But, if we have the threat of a suspended jail sentence, the landlords may comply.”

Both Hamrick and Krane used their short time at the podium to lambast Eliason, who they said was complacent in ensuring landlords continue predatory practices by grouping multiple offenses into one offense to reduce a landlord’s penalty.

“How do you increase penalties for multiple offenses, when Law Director Eliason treats multiple offenses as a single offense?” Krane said. “And what’s the point of passing any law if the law director is just going to ignore it anyway?”

Eliason told The Athens NEWS last week this is standard city practice. She declined to comment on Krane and Hamrick’s allegations at the meeting.

Hamrick used a portion of her time at the podium to call for a city-wide tenants union.

“I also recognize that real change doesn’t come from City Council,” Hamrick said. “It comes from workers and tenants ourselves. It’s long past time we formed a tenant union to protect and defend each other, to fight for lower rent and better conditions.”

Krane also questioned the enforceability of the proposed housing reform ordinance and continued to question the lack of code enforcers employed at the Code Enforcement Office — an issue that Krane and Mayor Steve Patterson have butt heads about for months.

Patterson previously said that Code Enforcement had six enforcers, but then corrected himself and claimed there were seven enforcers, according to The Athens NEWS.

Krane called Patterson’s statement a lie, saying only four employees perform the inspections. Krane plans to increase the number to eight if elected mayor, he said.

“For five solid months, Mayor Patterson tried to get away with claiming that code enforcement has six or seven inspectors, but as I — and The Athens NEWS – pointed out, we only have four rental housing inspectors,” Krane said at the Tuesday meeting.

Only four code enforcement employees performed housing inspections in the past year, per the office’s annual reports, according to The Athens NEWS.

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