CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After years of struggling against "slumlords" and their shabby apartments, Charleston launched a rental reform in 2010. Landlords were required to register their units with the city. Three new city building inspectors were hired, doubling the staff. Safe apartments were approved and certified. This crackdown was expected to eliminate roach-infested hellholes unfit for human life.
Why, then, was Charleston still tainted by a disgusting house at 1411 Jackson St. that leaped into the news last week? The structure had been divided into seven grubby apartments housing 15 to 20 people, including children -- with no water or central heat, but plenty of roaches, bedbugs and filth.
How could the landlord collect nearly $500 per month for such apartments? How could the occupants endure it?
City officials were well aware of the place. Police Lt. Shawn Williams said officers had been called there for drugs, prostitution and other problems about 1,000 times over the years.
When inspectors and police arrived Thursday to condemn the house, owner Timothy Harold Stone allegedly brandished a screwdriver and was arrested. Then the place was padlocked and its sorry residents evicted.
"In my 15 years' experience, it's one of the worst I've seen," Lt. Williams was quoted. "Utterly deplorable. He'd broken up the house into seven units and was charging them basically $500 a month for nothing. There was no running water."
Since Charleston's 2010 rental reform began, inspectors have complained that the worst slumlords don't register their units -- and when inspectors try to examine apartments, they often can't enter because nobody's home or because landlords refuse admittance -- and when complaints are filed officially, slow paperwork drags on for months.
On the other hand, reports say most landlords cooperate with the new system, gladly fixing any problems found by inspectors. Some proudly display their certification as a selling point for renters.
How many other pathetic examples like the Jackson Street mess still exist? Perhaps the new city program should revise its priorities, putting routine inspections on a back burner while swift, urgent action is focused on problem spots.