Owners of an apartment complex that ran afoul of a building inspection last month and is at risk of being shut down is suing the city, asserting the city is unlawfully taking its property.
A gas meter check that led to an unexpected building inspection on Aug. 31 has the company that owns Texas City Apartments on Ninth Avenue looking to a judge for relief from what it’s describing as an illegal taking of property by a municipality.
The company, Cossatot Partners LLC, asserts in its complaint that the city’s unannounced inspection and condemnation notices that followed when police officers and city officials “flooded” onto the property was unconstitutional.
“I don’t have a quarrel with the city, but I think they overstepped their bounds,” said Cris Rasco, the attorney that’s representing Cossatot LLC. “Government can’t take private property without compensation or due process.”
Dennis Harris, the Texas City fire marshal who completed the initial inspection, said he’s just trying to keep tenants safe.
“As far as the fire marshal’s office is concerned, we just want people to be able to make a good decision about where they’re staying,” he said.
Russell Plackemeier, the city’s attorney, said he can’t comment on an ongoing lawsuit.
The case, which is set for an injunction hearing next week, stems from the fact that Texas City Apartments, which was built in 1975, is grandfathered into the city’s current building codes. That means that as long as the structure receives routine maintenance and upkeep, it only needs to comply with the building codes that existed in 1975, not 2018.
However, if a building’s certificate of occupancy is revoked, which Rasco said is what the city was trying to do with its inspection and condemnation notices, the grandfather status goes away. At that point, the building’s 14 tenants will have to move out and the building will have to be renovated to comply with current codes to stay open.
“It will kill my client’s business,” Rasco said. “Basically, what they did was a death sentence.”
For its part, the city considers the apartment to be a substandard building and not suitable for living in — a conclusion with which Rasco disagrees. In his initial inspection, a walkthrough of the property revealed electrical work that needs to be redone, sagging floors and rotten walls, Harris said. Missing smoke detectors and uninspected fire extinguishers also were a problem, he said.
“If there was any type of fire, then the building wouldn’t perform properly,” Harris said. “It would run the length of the building and possibly get to unsuspecting neighbors.”
Rasco said the violations aren’t serious enough to condemn the property.
“The building is livable,” he said. “It’s not an extremely nice apartment complex, but the tenants live there because they want to. They’d be displaced if the city takes the certificate of occupancy.”