Local resident files suit over alleged lack of code enforcement

Published 7:00 am Friday, July 20, 2018

Wednesday, local Picayune resident Martan DeSalvo stood before Pearl River County Justice Court Judge Donald Fail as part of his lawsuit against Picayune code enforcement officer Ted Barze.

Before the hearing began, attorney Ryne Hand, who was representing the city, asked Fail to dismiss the case. However, Fail gave DeSalvo a chance to tell his story.

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DeSalvo says a house he rented previously was contaminated with black mold. He told Fail that when he informed Picayune code enforcement officers about the situation, nothing was done to remedy it. He said when he first moved into the house nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for a small black dot on the wall that grew and according to DeSalvo was black mold. DeSalvo told Fail that as the mold spread, his wife and pets became ill. However, DeSalvo was unable to produce medical records to back up his claim that the illnesses were directly related to the mold.

While at the rental home, DeSalvo said he tried calling several organizations to report the situation, but no one would come and conduct a test. So, he said he bought a home testing kit and tested it himself, which resulted with the house receiving a score of “high alert.” DeSalvo said he moved out of the house as soon as possible and after doing so his wife and pets started getting better.

DeSalvo said he then requested an inspection by the city’s code enforcement office. However, he said he never received any word or any kind of documentation stating that the residence had been checked. DeSalvo said since he believed the residence wasn’t checked, he expected the landlord to simply paint over the mold and rent it out again. He said he didn’t come to court to get money, but rather to ensure city employees are doing their job.

“I want to go to court to prove a point. Nobody ever went to inspect the house. They don’t do their job at the city. I never saw paperwork to see that it was checked – now more people will move in and get sick,” DeSalvo said.

Before allowing the defendant a chance to speak, Fail noticed that the lawsuit listed Barze, and not the city of Picayune. Because of this, Fail said he had no choice but to dismiss the case.

After the hearing, Director of Planning, Zoning and Code Enforcement, Tom Milar said he received the complaint about a month ago, after Desalvo moved out of the rental property. Milar said he went to check the residence after the report was filed, but it was locked and uninhabited. He said his exterior inspection showed that the residence appeared to be a nice, clean house with a functioning ventilation and HVAC system.

Milar said code enforcement officers can only take action if black mold is visible in a residence. Because it was locked, Milar said he did not enter the residence to inspect its interior.

When asked why he did not contact the landowner to request entry, he said it was for two reasons. First, if the landowner had denied entry, he would have had to get a search warrant and he could not find any evidence on the exterior to support DeSalvo’s claim. This would have made it difficult to obtain a warrant, Milar said. Secondly, Milar said summer is the busiest time of year for the code enforcement office, and there were several other matters he needed to see to. He said because external evidence didn’t lead him to believe he needed to pursue the matter further, checking the inside of the residence for mold was a low priority.

When the Item requested a written report of the inspection Milar conducted, he said photos of the house’s exterior were taken, but no official report was submitted.

According to the International Property Maintenance Code, 2006 edition, which was adopted as city ordinance No. 895 in 2011, while landowners are responsible for their property, city code enforcement officers may conduct an investigation and if they deem a structure unfit for occupancy, they may advise the landowner to make any needed changes and temporarily condemn the building until the landowner can prove the situation has been remedied.

“A structure is unfit for human occupancy whenever the code official finds that such structure is unsafe, unlawful or, because of the degree to which the structure is in disrepair or lacks maintenance, is unsanitary, vermin or rat infested, contains filth and contamination, or lacks ventilation, illumination, sanitary or heating facilities or other essential equipment required by this code…,” section 108.1.3 of the Property Maintenance Code states.

Milar said if a code enforcement officer finds visible black mold in a structure, they inform the landowner that action must be taken immediately. He said an allotted amount of time would be given to the landowner depending on how bad the situation is. However, he said if there is a large amount of mold, the residence may be immediately condemned.

DeSalvo said he plans to re-file the suit within the next few weeks against the city.