“What do you do with the man in the house?”
It’s a question Covington code enforcement officer Jim Berry’s been asking recently as the city deals with the unpleasant prospect of potentially forcing a man out of his own house.
Jack Moser has received multiple condemnation notices on his 6110 Sorrells St. house over the years, but to date, he’s never been forced to move out and has yet to make any repairs. City officials say he’s uncooperative and has adamantly refused to move, even at the urging of family and friends offering help.
When his case goes back before the Covington Municipal Court July 17, Moser is unlikely to show up, based on the past few court orders to appear, and the judge will be faced with making a decision about the house’s future.
The home is literally falling apart, with a prominent hole in the roof, and meets the definition of unsanitary given that it hasn’t had utilities — including running water — turned on since 2009; it’s a danger to Moser and his neighbors, Berry said.
As someone put it to Berry, “It’s a nightmare either way you handle it. Either you create homelessness or the house falls in and people say, ‘Why didn’t the city (do something)?
“The structure, we can tear down and plant grass; that part is easy to resolve. But what about the man? Where does he go? Who will care for his needs? Because he will not go to anybody for help. What’s to prevent him from putting a tent up or sleeping in a box?”
Moser’s case is complicated by the fact that he refuses alternatives. In years past, his brother would have the utilities turned on, but they wouldn’t be used, Berry said. A lawn-care business would be hired to cut the yard, but Moser would turn it away.
A local church dropped off a case of water, but it sat on the front porch unopened; Berry said Moser told him “a witch delivered it.” Personal friends have tried to intervene to no avail.
Moser digs for gold under his house, collects rainwater to flush the toilet and fashioned a stove out of 55-gallon drum container.
He hasn’t appeared in court for any of his recent dates, but when he did several years ago, he was asked what he would do if his house fell down. He said he would put a teepee up in the house, said an employee who formerly worked the case.
The Covington Fire Department has flagged the address to warn firefighters not to enter the house in case of a fire, because it’s structurally unstable.
When The News spoke to Moser at his home Wednesday and asked him about the city’s condemnation of his house, he replied, “What city? There is no city. This is my farm.”
Moser, who has a long white beard and spoke from behind his screen door, went on to call city officials “witches” and quickly ended the conversation.
Neighbor Willie Anderson said Moser’s house has been overgrown by weeds since Anderson moved in decades ago. Anderson said Moser never talks to him, but will leave the house on foot and return with garbage bags. During the only conversation the men had years ago, Moser gave Anderson advice about how to save money; Moser’s tip was to never spend it.
Anderson, whose property is neatly kept up, said he’s had snakes and rats on his property, which he assumes come from the human-height weeds. He would like to see the property cleaned up.
However, none of the above details changes the fact that Moser lives in a home his family owns — the home is technically in the name of his mother, who is believed to be deceased, though no death certificate is on record, according to Berry.
The house isn’t a poorly kept up rental, where the tenants often have readily-available alternatives. To his knowledge, Berry said, the city has never yet had to force a person out of his or her own home.
There was a case on Floyd Street years ago, where an elderly couple lived in disturbingly unsanitary conditions, but a third party stepped in and took guardianship of the property, rehabilitated it and even provided for nursing care and maid service and helped the husband get Social Security benefits, city officials said.
Another house on Walnut Street is also far along in the condemnation process, but the owner has come to court and said he simply doesn’t have the money to fix up the house. The hope is that he’ll be able to move into affordable housing, Berry said.
While Moser’s house has been declared condemned, an official court order declaring that fact has not yet been signed.
“We write up homeowners all the time, but typically they’re compliant. The ultimate goal of code enforcement is compliance, not citations, fines or imprisonment. Our goal is to make the city safe,” Berry said.
However, years of evidence have shown Moser has no desire to be compliant or leave the property.
“I’m sure it’s (Moser’s) desire to die in his estate,” Berry said.
However, Moser’s desires conflict with the city’s rules and safety standards, and the question remains: What will the city do with the man in the broken-down house?