Renters say they were duped

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

A number of Jamestown renters are being told they're living in condemned homes, much to their surprise.

Tuolumne County building officials visited the three Ninth Street homes this week to crack down on building code violations.

The residents of two of the homes were given a month to vacate. One was ordered to move immediately.

The buildings are owned by Stewart Hatler, who has been fighting the county for years over the rentals.

With the county threatening to demolish the buildings, residents like Misty Verkuyl are stuck looking for a new place.

Verkuyl, told to move right away, was not allowed to live there in the first place because the county deemed it violated health and safety codes - something to which she was oblivious.

"Apparently, I'm not even supposed to be here,"Verkuyl said Thursday. "So I'm going to be sitting here, and my house is going to be bulldozed?"

The county and Hatler have tussled over the homes for years. Hatler's properties have been flagged for lack of adequate water and sewer services, holes in siding, multiple additions and installations without permits, substandard electrical wiring, and other fire and health code violations.

The county has served Hatler with multiple notices to fix the problems or tear the buildings down.

Hatler didn't return messages seeking comment for this story. He's said in the past that his properties are not subject to local codes because of an obscure state housing law, and that the county has no jurisdiction over them.

Verkuyl said her landlord told her and her neighbors as much this week, telling them they don't have to leave. But she's not going to wait around to find out.

"What am I supposed to do?," she said. "I'm not going to have all my stuff bulldozed."

Doug Oliver, Tuolumne County's chief building official, said the properties are among the county's top priorities for eliminating substandard housing. Two of the properties were subjects of a 2011 hearing in front of the county Board of Supervisors where an appeal of the abatement orders was denied.

Oliver said Hatler's options are essentially to take the buildings down himself, or the county will take them down and charge him for the work.

"There's no grandfathering in dangerous buildings" he said. "It's an immediate issue. They cannot live there. … He hasn't addressed the severe problems."

Oliver said the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency has programs to help tenants in these situations, and Verkuyl said she's contacted the organization while she looks for a new place.

But Oliver said situations like these put him and the building department in a lose-lose situation. On one hand, people shouldn't be living there. On the other, he doesn't like the idea of putting families out of their homes.

"That's the worst job you can have in the county," he said.

The Union Democrat
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