Charlestown mayor defends rental ordinance in court

The mayor of a southern Indiana city is defending a rental inspection ordinance that’s resulted in thousands of dollars in fines against property owners and is now the subject of a lawsuit.

Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall testified during Friday’s daylong hearing in Scott County Circuit Court that the ordinance is needed to ensure safe housing in his Ohio River community.

“We’ve been taking the same approach to this in all of the redevelopment projects that we’ve done — (which) is to recognize that code enforcement is necessary for safe housing,” he said.

The Institute for Justice sued the city of Charlestown on behalf of residents in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood, the News and Tribune reported. The nonprofit law firm’s attorneys argued Friday that the city broke Indiana law when it fined property owners without first giving them “reasonable time” to make repairs to return to compliance.

Anthony Sanders, one of the group’s attorneys, said “the city must follow the law when it engages in code enforcement.”

The city’s attorneys argued that Charlestown has home rule, which states that all powers of a city not expressed in law aren’t to be taken away.

The Institute for Justice is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop Charlestown from enforcing the ordinance until the lawsuit is decided. A special judge will decide whether to block the ordinance.

The lawsuit comes amid the city’s efforts to redevelop the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood, which may include tearing down homes to make way for a new subdivision. Many of the neighborhood’s homes were built in the early 1940s to accommodate a large and quick influx of residents working at the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant.

Charlestown Building Commissioner Tony Jackson testified Friday that those homes were built to be temporary, with lower-quality materials and constructed in a matter of days

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