A lot can happen between March and now, St. Clair County Building and Zoning Director Anne Markezich answered. Too bad that’s not the question about tenants for a second time needing to evacuate a roach-infested apartment building with leaking toilets and sinks, a ceiling falling in and holes in the wall at 2917 West Blvd. near Belleville.
First, that much damage and deterioration did not just happen between March and August. The apartment building was shuttered in 2014 because it was bad, and there were continuing complaints.
But let’s buy Markezich’s assertion that things were dandy in March and got so bad by August that roaches charged at county workers and a hazmat team was needed to retrieve tenant possessions. Here are the real questions:
Why doesn’t the county flag an apartment building that was so bad just two years ago that all the tenants were forced to move out?
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When other landlords are blowing the whistle about visible, exterior issues, why doesn’t someone at the county office think, “Gee. If things are bad on the outside, maybe there are problems on the inside?”
How can an experienced inspector with a case file of past issues miss the kind of decay that in a few short months would appall a social worker?
Markezich said the apartment building mess is prompting changes in the inspection process, but she wouldn’t discuss specifics. Why? National security? Trade secrets? Fifth Amendment protections?
There was plenty of evidence that this apartment building was a problem that needed more than a call or letter to landlord Jeff Thomas. While he is ultimately responsible for conditions at the Roach Arms, St. Clair County’s building and zoning department failed at their job as a watchdog.
Having another county department help the tenants find other housing does little to ameliorate this fiasco. Being honest with the taxpayers who fund these services about what will be done to keep it from happening again would at least start repairing some damage to public confidence.