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Our View: Inspections needed to prevent tragedy

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 8:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 2:04 p.m. CDT

Buildings in the city of DeKalb have been falling apart, and it is a public safety hazard.

City officials, led by City Manager Anne Marie Gaura and Dean Frieders, the city’s attorney, have acknowledged this. In response, they propose creating an inspection system for commercial and industrial properties.

Gaura and Frieders said building owners would pay for the inspection program without it being a money-making proposition for the city. They also said the property owners will be given time to address violations based on their severity rather than being immediately hauled into court.

In that case, we support the idea. Recent examples have shown that the status quo is not working.

The Wurlitzer building at 1660 Pleasant St. was neglected for so many years that the roof caved in and the building collapsed. The property owners still have not cleaned up the mess, and the collapsed structure has remained there since 2012. A veteran DeKalb police officer suffered a career-ending injury there in November after he fell through the floor while responding to a call about trespassers who might have a gun. It is shameful.

A judge has ordered the mess cleaned up by Sept. 1, or the city will be able to demolish it.

In January, the building that housed Otto’s and Ducky’s Formalwear was declared unfit for occupancy after a pipe inside the building burst, causing flood damage. Although the bar at Otto’s had been inspected because it was a public accommodation, other areas had been overlooked for years.

A city inspection of the building after the pipe burst uncovered long-term water damage, unsafe wiring, and general disrepair that made the building uninhabitable. The owner of Otto’s, Pat Looney, has surrendered the business’ liquor license and has not said if he plans to reopen. Ducky’s has relocated.

Then there were the conditions uncovered at the Travel Inn motel near the intersection of Annie Glidden Road and Lincoln Highway. Walkthroughs done as part of a new hotel inspection program uncovered deplorable conditions there, including unsanitary conditions and safety hazards. Most dangerous were balcony railings that had rusted through, making it only a matter of time before someone leaned too hard against them and fell.

The city ordered the motel to close in May after several rounds of inspections. It has yet to reopen, and many of the people who relied on it as a place to stay were forced to find other options.

We have called in the past for a new approach to dealing with building maintenance. As DeKalb Mayor John Rey pointed out, not all property owners allow their buildings to fall apart, but there are clearly some who consider maintaining their property a secondary concern. A program of regular inspections every one to three years is appropriate.

No doubt some property owners will push back against having more fees and conditions imposed on them by local government, which already imposes a significant property tax burden. We understand that concern. However, recent events have showed that the city must do more to ensure the buildings where citizens work and conduct business are safe and structurally sound. These incidents have cost people homes, jobs, businesses, and careers. It is fortunate that no one has lost their life.

City leaders must act before someone does.

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