By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — A landlord with a checkered past is under pressure to take action with an apartment building that apparently has significant safety code violations.
The house at 214 N. Fort Wayne Ave., which has been cut into two apartments, has a deteriorating roof and porch and possibly interior damage from an apparent busted water pipe.
The city became aware of the circumstances last winter when police alerted the office after one of two tenants was arrested for allegedly hooking up water from an adjacent home. That tenant still resides there and still does not have water.
The case involving the Fort Wayne Avenue property and landlord Ralph Fitch was one of seven on the agenda Tuesday, Sept. 21, for the monthly code enforcement hearing.
Fitch repeatedly suggested he can’t do much with the property because he’s fearful of the tenant who has no water service. According to Fitch, he doesn’t want the tenant there anymore because he doesn’t pay rent, but he doesn’t know how to address the issue.
Officials representing city code enforcement and the Kosciusko County Health Department visited the property minutes after the conclusion of Tuesday’s code enforcement hearing in which Fitch appeared and defended his situation.
Officials were going to seek an inspection of the property. The group, including Fitch, tried to gain entry with a police officer who knocked on the front door of the apartment.
Since they were unsure of the urgency of the situation – and the fact there were two dogs inside the apartment – officials chose not to enter and will seek permission to search the building with a court warrant.
In addition to two dogs inside, there were three more dogs in a cage in the backyard.
A search of the premises will help determine whether the property should be condemned, which would lead to the removal of tenants.
Officials also noted a fire pit, positioned close to the porch in the front of the house, appeared to be used to burn materials other than wood, which is a violation.
Code Enforcement Officer Dana Hewitt also noted that the collection of items on the porch looked more like a permanent storage area, which is also a violation.
But those appear to be minor issues compared to the roof and porch.
Hewitt said Fitch, a resident of Larwill, has a history of code enforcement violations that have led to two demolitions and other current cases involving other Warsaw properties that are also currently under scrutiny.
Given Fitch’s history, Administrative Hearing Judge Thomas Earhart offered Fitch “one more chance” to make substantial progress on the house.
Earhart ordered Fitch to appear at the Oct. 26 code enforcement hearing.
Fitch was reminded that the condition of the property is his responsibility and was given advice on how to legally remove an unwanted tenant.
“You gotta get at it and you gotta get at it now,” Earhart said.
Much of the rest of the code enforcement meeting included some positive developments.
Five properties saw complaints dismissed after improvements were made. Those included structures at 610 E. Center St., 629 S. Lake St., 2231 E. Jefferson St., and 316 S. Union St.
Another property, 531 N. Park Ave., has been sold. The exterior of the house had numerous environmental violations but has been cleaned up. That case was also dismissed.
It was also announced that the Economy Inn, which has been shuttered for two years following storm damage, has been sold. City officials said they plan to work with the new owners to finish off the reconstruction of the interior.