Family remains in 'unfit' Harrisburg house days later

Tenants insist they have no options
The house at 223 Eve St. in Augusta has been ordered vacated after inspectors determined it is unfit for human habitation. Tenants have stayed, saying they have nowhere else to go.

A week ago, code enforcement found a family living in filth in the rental house at 223 Eve St. and condemned it for occupancy, ordering everyone out until landlord John B. Weigle Jr. makes structural repairs.

It was hard to tell that on Monday. The front porch was still crowded with people, the rooms inside still crammed with clothes, furniture and junk. A red-lettered notice remained tacked by the front door declaring the premises "unfit for human habitation," but it no more kept people away than the lack of power or running water.

Tenant Rebecca Tankersley and her family have barely begun packing. Her sister, Willie Bell, says it's because they have nowhere to go. They're broke; most of them suffer health or mental problems; and they have nowhere to turn, she said.

Tankersley suffers from pancreatitis and diabetes, and a heart attack last month kept her in the hospital for weeks, putting her behind on utility bills, her sister said.

City inspectors, checking out a report of a power cord running from that house into another two doors down, came by Sept. 21 and found jars of urine inside, a bag of feces and more feces and buckets of urine in the backyard.

The humiliation and the stress of losing her home led to vomiting and a physical breakdown Monday, and Tankersley spent the day in the University Hospital emergency room, Bell said.

"With this situation and her health, that can cause anyone to go into a trauma stage," said Bell, who was among the half-dozen people on the porch. "After all these years, everything's coming down on her at one time. It's a very stressful situation."

Tankersley, 53, took on six grandchildren when her daughter died of hepatitis C in 2002, Bell said. Three years later, the family moved into Weigle's bungalow at 223 Eve St. in Harrisburg, paying $550 a month.

Three grandsons, ages 21, 16, and 15, still live there. The oldest two have mental disorders, and Tankersley has been surviving off their Social Security checks, Bell said. The youngest one has been in and out of trouble with the Department of Juvenile Justice and was recently arrested for shoplifting a pair of shoes.

Tankersley also has two disabled brothers living with her, one with a broken hip and shoulder, the other with prostate cancer and bronchitis.

Bell denied allegations by mayoral candidate and neighborhood association president Lori Davis that the residence is a drug house. Davis said she had seen men milling around out front and cars with distant license plates coming and going.

"We have a lot of friends, and we have a large family," Bell said. "And we love everyone and everyone loves us."

Bell said Davis is right, however, in her criticism of Harrisburg's landlords. She said Weigle, who testified in small-claims court earlier this year that he checked on the Eve Street house frequently, hasn't set foot inside it since the family moved in.

She said he only comes by once a month to get the rent, usually coming no closer than the front gate. He told her sister he would fix some broken windows and the leak and sagging ceiling in the back room, but he never did, Bell said.

Weigle did paint the outside of the house, the result of a visit from code enforcement in early 2009, and he has been ordered a few times since then to clean up the yard, according to the License and Inspection Department. Last week was the first time inspectors entered the house, Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile said.

Costabile said last week that she hopes Weigle might find his tenants a place to go; that doesn't seem to be the case. Bell showed a reporter a letter an attorney for Weigle sent to the family last week, dated the day after the inspectors' visit, demanding they vacate within three days for nonpayment of rent.

Bell said her sister is paid up with Weigle, though. "He's just covering himself," she said of the landlord, who has declined to speak to The Chronicle about the situation with the house.

Last week, Costabile ordered the family in writing to leave immediately, and verbally told them to have their things out by the end of the week. She came by Monday to see why they haven't left, and one of Tankersley's brothers said they don't have any options.

Costabile gave them phone numbers for the United Way and the Salvation Army and told them to check with some local churches.

Fran Oliver, the executive director of Harrisburg's Mercy Ministries, a Christian outreach to the poor and homeless, said the family might be eligible for rapid rehousing stimulus funds, which could be applied for through the Salvation Army.

Oliver said she would send one of her workers to the house today to talk to them.

Code Enforcement's Visits to 223 Eve St.

JAN. 8, 2009

Complaint: Junk and debris in yard, too many people in the house.

Found: Junk and debris in the yard. Six family members in the house, which is legal. Inspectors noted that the exterior needed to be painted.

Resolution: Junk and debris were removed from the yard and the house was painted. Case dismissed.

JAN. 7

Complaint: Trash and debris in the yard.

Found: Complaint confirmed

Resolution: Yard was cleaned and the trash and debris were removed. Case dismissed.

AUG. 24

Complaint: An inspector found appliances in the backyard.

Resolution: Appliances were removed from backyard. Case dismissed.

SEPT. 21

Complaint: Bad odor, electricity being provided to this address by a drop cord from an adjoining house.

Found: No power or water. Feces, toilet tissue and buckets of urine in the backyard. In the house, jugs of urine, a bag containing feces, roaches, a hole in the ceiling, rotten flooring, and several other maintenance issues. Fire hazard due to the amount of junk and belongings in the house. Resolution: A notice was delivered to the tenant and posted on the structure saying it is condemned until brought into compliance. The notice was also sent by e-mail to the owner's attorney. The tenants have not left the property, saying they have nowhere to go.

Source: Augusta License and Inspection Department

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