The Mobile City Council could vote as early as Tuesday, Oct. 6 to revoke the business license of the owner of three boarding houses on Broad Street, despite a plea from the landlord for more time to improve security.
Randall Petrie, owner of the three properties located at 259, 261 and 263 Broad Street, told councilors he has worked to improve the properties since buying them to provide safe, affordable housing for his tenants.
“We wanted to make it a safe, stable place for low-income residents to live,” he said. “We know there’s a lot of folks working downtown, making minimum wage, and they need a place close to downtown so they can walk or take the bus to work.”
At the time he purchased the properties, he said, he was unaware the houses had been the subject of a public hearing seeking to have the previous owner’s business license revoked. Before the purchase, he said, he even spoke with city staff members in the business licenses office who told him there were “no issues” with the property.
“We had no idea until about two weeks after we purchased the properties about the status of the relationship between the previous owners and the city,” he said.
The council voted to revoke the business license of the previous owners more than a year ago, after Mobile Police Department (MPD) attorney Wanda Rahman reported “terrible” living conditions for residents at the boarding houses. She told council members some residents paid rent to live under stairwells, while others were forced to wash dishes in a bathtub.
Before the city could act on the revocation, the former owners sold the properties.
Since taking over as landlord, Petrie said he’s reduced the number of tenants from a high of 37 in the three buildings and makes each of them sign a “full lease.”
“We decided to do leases, moved to a monthly payment and no cash,” he said, while flanked by attorney B.J. Lyon. “We changed the model from rooms to apartments. Instead of three rooms and one bathroom, there’s a bedroom, living room and kitchen.”
Despite the changes, residents of the Oakleigh Garden District and Down the Bay communities have continued to complain about the homes. The ongoing issues with the properties were exacerbated by a homicide, which caught the attention of Council President Levon Manzie, who represents the area.
“There are grave concerns among neighbors about these properties,” Manzie said. “I’m just acting as the elected representative for Oakleigh and Down the Bay. Mr. Petrie lives in Spanish Fort and would not stand for that in his neighborhood.”
With the work being done to improve Broad Street, Manzie told Lyon he didn’t think the boarding houses fit in with the new aesthetic.
The revocation resolution prevents Petrie and Deep Water Marketing from obtaining a business license for a year. The resolution also prevents the properties from being used as boarding houses for a year, council attorney Chris Arledge said.
In addition to the homicide, city attorney Ricardo Woods told councilors, the properties in question have been the source of 286 calls for service since October 2019. Many of those calls, Petrie said, have been requests for close patrols and the number of actual police calls has been greatly reduced.
“We’re creating that pressure,” Petrie said. “Now we’re getting that walk-in traffic like we used to.”
Regarding the homicide, Petrie said it was a domestic issue committed by someone who was trespassing at the time. Since taking over as landlord, Petrie said he has had the properties added to the MPD’s “project shield.” Officers can monitor them 24 hours per day, 365 days per year from headquarters.
Lyon told council members his client has made a $500,000 investment in the properties.
“This property has truly been transformed,” Lyon said. “There has been a complete culture change.”
Lyon added he and Petrie do not believe the properties constitute a “public nuisance” and asked for more time to reduce the police calls for service out there.
In a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29, Councilman John Williams asked Manzie what would happen to the properties if the license is revoked on boarding houses. He argued the owner of the houses intended to make a difference.
“What’s the end result?” Williams asked. “Is it another place we’re going to have to buy and pick our tenant? Do we make it a park?”
Manzie told Wiliams both of those options are viable.
“I don’t want to speak too out of school, but there are options out there that are deployable,” he said.
Williams also seemed concerned if the license is revoked on the boarding house it would open the city up to a precedent where an apartment complex can have a license revoked due to a homicide.
“Everyone has their spots with apartment buildings that receive hundreds of calls for service,” Williams said.
While Manzie said he understands Williams’ point, he said it was important to put themselves in the shoes of the residents of his district.
“I think if we were experiencing that volume of calls in our neighborhoods, we’d be ringing our councilors’ or the mayor’s phones off the hook asking where our relief is. I want to be sensitive to Mr. Petrie’s situation, but he lives in Spanish Fort. What about the people who live right there or in Down the Bay or Oakleigh?” he said.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here