Ephraim getting tough on code enforcement
EPHRAIM—The Ephraim City Council, taking perhaps its strongest stand ever on enforcement of city building and utility codes, voted last week to give the owner of a mobile home park at about 200 West and 200 North a final, 30-day notice to correct health and safety hazards.
If the owner, David Strait, doesn’t fix things the city has been warning him about for as long as 15 years, the council called for shutting the park down, even if it displaces residents of about 20 trailers.
The special meeting last Wednesday, Aug. 31, wrapped up with the council approving a motion by Scott stating, “The Ephraim City Council supports and sustains all measures that the city administration has to take to enforce standards and codes and laws, including state and federal laws, with all trailer parks, which includes taking measures to close the trailer parks down if necessary.”
“Trailer parks serve a valuable purpose,” City Manager Brant Hanson told the council. “They provide homes for people who otherwise couldn’t afford a home.”
But at the 200 West park, the city manager said, “it’s gotten to the point where it’s unbearable, and we’re really concerned about the safety of the residents. And they have a right to safe and affordable housing, not housing that jeopardizes their lives.”
Much of the meeting was devoted to a police officer, the public works director, the power superintendent, the city planner and neighbors describing conditions that have to be classed as shocking.
Officer Len Gasser, the city’s main code enforcement officer. said he got a complaint last June saying someone was living in a trailer without power, water or sewer.
“I started looking into that,” he said, “but it didn’t take a lot of looking, because the smell alone verified what was going on.”
The residents, he found, were relieving themselves in 5-gallon buckets, emptying the buckets into a larger bucket outside, allowing the larger bucket to dry up and then emptying the human waste into their garbage can.
The resident wouldn’t let Gasser into the trailer. But from the doorway, “I could see wires hanging everywhere,” the officer told the city council. “There were walls pulled out, windows broke out, (and) most of the support walls were all tore out.”
Gasser gave Strait, who was renting the unit, three days to install a flush toilet system. When Strait failed to comply, Gasser issued him a citation for a code violation.
A week or two after investigating the complaint about the home without water, power or sewage disposal, Gasser; Chad Parry, director of public works; and Corry Daniels, city power superintendent, met Strait, the property owner, on site and walked through the whole park, trailer by trailer.
Parry reported one water line and one meter served the whole park. As for the lines between the main water line and individual trailers—those were garden hoses. Naturally, none of the hose had backflow devices.
“They’ve got garden hoses running out to their trailers,” Parry said. “That’s how they’re feeding them. Nothing’s up to code.”
Worse, he said, sewer lines were positioned above the water hoses, and almost every sewer line was leaking, creating a significant risk of sewage dripping into water lines.
“If it was my choice, if I had the right credentials, I would shut the water off,” Parry told the council.
The electrical system in the park was a little like the water system, Daniels, the electrical superintendent, said. While some trailers had their own connections, in other parts of the park, a single connection was serving several trailers.
People had run extension cords from trailer to trailer, or between trailers and the meter box. They were essentially powering their homes off extension cords.
Some of the trailers had gone vacant or even been partly torn down, but power had not been shut off, Daniels reported.
He said he pulled meters out of four trailers, shutting off the power. “I just felt it was a health concern,” he said.
Later in the meeting, Councilman John Scott responded to Daniels’ description. “For heaven’s sake,” Scott said. “What you’re describing to us, somebody could be electrocuted and killed because of the way this is set up.”
One resident told Daniels there had been a fire in one of the units on the south side of the park, the area several officials described as most deteriorated and most dangerous.
“If (electrical conditions) start a fire, it’s going to affect everybody in that whole (park),” Daniels said. “That’s what my concern is. If there’s a fire starting in any of those units, it’s going to be a big issue in terms of affecting people.”
Officer Gasser said recently, he and Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen served a warrant at the same trailer that they had investigated earlier for operating without water, sewer or power.
They recovered 4 grams of methamphetamine, 100 needles and carried out four garbage bags full of drug paraphernalia.
A housing unit where that much meth has been present should be condemned, Hanson, the city manager commented. But up to now, there’s been nothing to prevent Strait, the owner, from rerenting it. And, Hanson said, he charges $500 per month.
Several neighbors also weighed in. Denise <ck>Thursby, who lives across the street, said that over the years, the park had “gotten horrible.”
“It has totally gotten out of control. The trailers are shells, and people are living in them. It’s disgusting. It’s gotten beyond a joke.”
Another neighbor, Heather Howard, said her family has owned a house that faces toward the south side of the park for 22 years and has made a lot of improvements to their property.
“That’s what I get to look out at every day and see,” she said. “Like the city workers said, it’s unsafe, its unsanitary, it’s a health concern, it’s a liability for the city,” she said. “I don’t want to see families displaced, but I want to see families in decent living conditions.”
Still another neighbor, Penny Brown, said she and others have visited the park in their callings in the LDS church. “It’s downright scary to us,” she said. “We see the conditions, and it hurts our hearts.”
All of the city workers described repeated efforts to work with the owner to correct code violations. But all said Strait had demonstrated no serious intent to turn around the development.
“It’s been a 15-year ordeal,” Gasser said. “He’s known about the building code violations for 15 years, but nothing’s changed.”
“Obviously the Straits aren’t too worried because they’re not here,” Councilman Tyler Alder said. “And that’s what happened three or four years ago when we had the same meeting. They didn’t show up then either.”
“Just because we’ve allowed it to go on in the past doesn’t mean we are required to let it continue,” City Manager Hanson said. “It’s time for us to step up and make sure we protect the residents.”