Student renters taken to court

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October 30, 2007

2:15 AM

__Students felt targeted by city after they were cited for
debris in backyard__

Nine months of legal wrangling over a rental house has left two students feeling that the city of Williamsburg does not want them living there.

p. “We were an inconvenience they were trying to get rid of,” Kerry Flanagan ’08 said.

p. Flanagan, Jenna Casebolt ’08 and landlord Gary Shelly ’72 allege that the city mishandled their case. In late September 2006, Shelly received a notice from the city saying that the backyard of the house Flanagan and Casebolt were renting from him was suffering from “blighted” conditions. The notice listed the offenses as debris, uncut grass and outdoor use of indoor furniture. The charges of uncut grass and outdoor use of indoor furniture were dropped, but Shelly eventually went to court over the debris charge.

p. The first notice sent to the tenants included photographs of the backyard, taken from a neighbor’s backyard. However, according to Casebolt, Flanagan and Shelly, the neighbors had not granted the city permission to take pictures from their yard. James Banton, a property inspector for the city, said that inspectors always ask for permission from neighbors when photographing adjacent backyards.

p. The initial notice came as a surprise to the tenants. Unsure what debris the notice referred to, Casebolt, Flanagan and Shelly did nothing to remove the lawn furniture, garden tools or inflatable pool that had been photographed during the inspection.

p. According to Shelly, the inspector testified in court that the initial photographs of the inspection had not developed. Therefore, he provided photos taken from the neighbor’s yard.

p. After failing subsequent inspections, Shelly was taken to civil court for not removing the debris from Casebolt and Flanagan’s backyard. He was found guilty.

p. The source of the complaint that led to the initial inspection is unknown. According to Casebolt, Flanagan and Shelly, neither of their neighbors had contacted the city regarding the backyard.

p. Following the verdict, Casebolt and Flanagan said that the city hired contractors to remove debris from their backyard. Casebolt and Flanagan said that this debris included lawn furniture and garden tools. A compliance officer allegedly showed up at the house to remove the debris.

p. After Casebolt and Flanagan threatened to call the police, the compliance officer overseeing the removal consulted with the city attorney handling the case. The furniture and tools were immediately returned. The contractors left the yard in the same condition they had found it.

p. When the case went to the docket court on appeal in May, the city dropped the charges, citing that Shelly had complied and passed an inspection that took place that day. Shelly told the judge he had done nothing to comply with the city complaint.

p. Although all charges against Shelly, Casebolt and Flanagan were dropped, they said they felt the city infringed upon their rights. Casebolt and Flanagan said they do not know how the city inspector gained access to their backyard to remove their belongings.

p. “We were treated as a nuisance,” Casebolt said.

p. Shelly agreed. “I do not believe what happened at that house would have happened at a typical rental house,” Shelly said. “In my opinion, it’s because it’s a student house.”

p. Banton claims students do not receive more complaints than other renters. He said the city handles complaints regarding student renters no differently than it handles other complaints.

p. Banton said that every resident has to comply with the same code.

p. “Everything that’s written up, it’s out of the book,” he said. “Being in Williamsburg, there are codes you have to adhere to.”

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