Underground movement has people moving into homes that haven’t passed inspections

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO – There’s an underground movement of people moving into homes that haven’t passed inspections.

Some say they are forced to make a decision between living in unsafe conditions or going against local government inspections.

Two families in Jennings and one in Spanish Lake in St. Louis County say they recently found homes to rent that are bigger and safer than where they’ve been. Yet they can’t get inspectors to allow them to make the move that’s best for their families.

Latoria Blacksure said this about a home she found for her family in Spanish Lake.

“It gives our children their own space, their own privacy. It gives us more privacy; more space and we can actually honor the six feet request that we have in the nation right now. We couldn’t do that before,” said Latoria Blacksure.

She moved her family and foster kids into the home despite the fact it hasn’t passed inspection.

“The county, I guess, or the little subdivision, it wouldn’t approve it because of the garage. But the house was up to par.”

She said the landlord told her if she stayed out of the garage, where a wall needs repair, he would deal with county inspectors.

Blacksure was elated.

“It was more beneficial for us to be able to move in here – medically – financially.”

Reporter Chris Hayes asked, “So you’re really not stacked on top of each other anymore?”

Blacksure answered, “No. There’s plenty of space.”

Hayes asked, “Does this make you fearful for what other families are going through that maybe they can’t get in because of delays in inspecting homes?”

Blacksure said, “Yes, because he actually told us there was a family living out of their car and they’ve been trying to move into a place since January.”

We talked to that family, who now lives on this Hord Avenue in Jennings. They made a video for us about how thankful they are to have a home.

An unidentified woman said she appreciated, “…to be able to have a place over my head, not have to sleep in cars and have to ask family and friends for help.”

They asked not to be identified and showed us what’s holding up their occupancy permit. The woman said, “The problem to hold up with the place would be the backyard fence, not being permitted through Jennings City Hall.”

She said the landlord told her inspectors claim the fence is too tall. The woman videotaped her fence and said, “It doesn’t look bad to me.”

Inspection delays under the pandemic mean they might not get that fence inspected for weeks.

Another Jennings resident said this outside electrical box won’t pass code. He said he was told it wasn’t a safety issue, but he still couldn’t move in, until an inspector signs off. Those inspectors aren’t working in the field under the pandemic.

He also moved in anyway, with the blessing of his landlord, saying it was the safest choice for his family.

When we brought these concerns to Jennings, the mayor wrote me:  “We have an occupancy permit process to follow, virus or no virus, and this is for the safety and well-being of tenants. That said- this process with the virus has been difficult, but we will work with landlords and tenants to make sure our residents have someplace safe to live. If we need to follow up with certain properties to make sure they are safe and code compliant, we will. The end goal is to make sure everyone has a safe place to live, especially during this time.”

Latoria said she’s thankful for a landlord willing to work with her family through inspection delays.

“I just really love my new home, my foster children and it’s really great. We have a dining room where we can all eat at the table together and pray,” said Blacksure.

St. Louis County, where Latoria’s family lives, responded saying it is still conducting occupancy permit inspections and looking case by case and discussing possible health concerns before canceling an inspection. A spokesman told me they’re “doing their best to safely keep the St. Louis economic engine moving.”

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