March 20, 2014

Blind woman placed in protective custody after police find home in deplorable condition

Rock Hill police placed the legally blind woman, 54, into emergency protective custody because of unsafe conditions at her home on Arlington Avenue, off Saluda Street.

The kitchen floor sagged, a rat trap kept the sink from falling through the counter and sunlight crept in through a hole in the ceiling, police say.

The woman living in the Rock Hill house had not eaten in a day and had not been outside in weeks. Water in her bathtub carried an odor and her bathroom floor was sloped, close to caving inward.

Police last week placed the legally blind woman, 54, into emergency protective custody, fearing for her safety amid the “very unsafe conditions” she called home, according to authorities.

On Monday, the city of Rock Hill sent the owner of the now-condemned house a letter informing her that she could take steps to fix the house or demolish it, a city spokeswoman said. If she refuses, city officials are able to take her to court and ask a judge to order that the house be torn down and the owner possibly face a fine.

But Patricia King of Chester County said she will gladly agree to demolition. For months, she said, she tried to convince the woman to leave the house because she knew the conditions were deplorable.

“She will not leave,” King said.

At about 12:30 p.m. Friday, a caseworker with the York County office of the Department of Social Services called police about the conditions of the woman’s home on Arlington Avenue, off Saluda Street. Police searched the house, with its windows covered, and found there was no external heating source – a furnace or heat pump – for the home.

The woman’s kitchen floor could barely support the officer’s weight, the report states. The kitchen counter’s drawers were not functional and were covered with mold.

A square hole was found in the back bedroom’s ceiling, exposing the room to sunlight and the elements. The front bedroom’s window would not close.

Inside the house, police found a small space heater they believe the woman used. The woman told police she last ate a day earlier at lunch time. She had half a sandwich. Officers found deli meat in her refrigerator, but no bread. The stove did not work, and the woman told police the last time she stepped outside was to go to a doctor’s appointment a month ago.

The woman showed police her $800 electric bill. She told officers she used her entire disability check to pay the bill but still had an outstanding $250 balance.

King, the homeowner, said part of the rental agreement was that the woman would be responsible for all the utilities. She also said the woman has relatives in Chester but has said she does not want to live with them.

The woman was taken to Piedmont Medical Center and placed in DSS custody. DSS declined to discuss the case. Adults placed in protective services receive an assessment from DSS before social services officials arrange living quarters for them, help them with financial benefits and link them with medical services, supplies and, if need be, legal services.

Homes in the city cannot be rented without external heating sources, said Katie Quinn, city spokeswoman. The city’s housing and neighborhood office complies with the 2006 version of the international property maintenance code, which requires landlords to provide housing units with heating devices that warm homes up to at least 68 degrees. Homes unfit for human occupancy, the rules say, include houses that are filthy, rife with unsanitary conditions, infested with rats or vermin or lacking proper lighting, ventilation or heating sources.

On Monday, a condemnation notice had been posted on the front door of the house, which King said was in good condition when she first rented it to the woman about five years ago.

Over time, the house fell into disrepair and the woman stopped paying rent, even after King says she served her with eviction notices. King planned to have the house demolished more than nine months ago. Her tenant refused to leave, she said, “and I don’t know why.”

City officials on Monday sent King a certified letter telling her to either fix the home or tear it down within 30 days, Quinn said. Property owners who willfully ignore the city’s requirements might face financial penalties if the city takes them to civil court, where a judge can order the demolition and the property owners to pay the fine if compliance is not achieved by court time, she said.

King, Quinn said, can opt for a voluntary demolition in which she would pay a $350 fee to have the house torn down.

In such cases, if efforts to reach the homeowner are unsuccessful, the city might also begin the process of an involuntary demolition. During that process, the house, along with a list of other condemned properties facing the same fate, will be advertised in The Herald and City Hall and liens placed on the property so the city can recover costs of demolition.

The Rock Hill City Council is responsible for approving involuntary demolitions.

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