Moulton plans demolition of properties, but owner says legal fight not over

Joiner

The city of Moulton is ready to demolish two houses after a protracted legal battle concluded last week with dismissal of property owner Thomas Joiner Jr.'s appeal, but Joiner said the legal battle is not over.  

Joiner appealed to the municipal court and then the circuit court the city's 2019 condemnation order of his houses at 61 East St. and 99 East St., losing both appeals. He then appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

In an order released last week, the appellate court ruled that Joiner’s “appeal was dismissed on Sept. 14 due to the appellant’s failure to file a brief” that complied with court rules. In a July 29 order, the same court issued a deficiency notice stating that Joiner had failed to timely file an appellant's brief and he had seven days to file one. At Joiner's request the court gave him until Aug. 13 to file the brief, but specified that it would not grant any delays beyond that date.

“It’s not over,” Joiner said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re filing paperwork in the morning. (Apparently) the last stuff we presented to them was not seen. I don’t know what’s the problem. We have a right to rectify this.”

City Building Inspector Renay Saint said Joiner was cited in 2018 because his East Street properties were out of compliance with the city’s nuisance ordinance.

City records show that Joiner did not meet a deadline to come up with a detailed plan to repair or demolish the houses.

On Feb. 18, 2019, the Moulton City Council voted 5-0 to proceed with legal action against Joiner. The municipal court found the properties to be in violation of the nuisance ordinance in March 2019. On March 4, 2019, he appealed the ruling to Lawrence County Circuit Court and, after multiple continuances, court records reflect that his appeal was dismissed in April of this year on the grounds the appeal was filed late. He then appealed the dismissal to the Court of Civil Appeals.

Saint said his office in 2019 received three bids between $15,000 and $20,000 to demolish both houses, which included testing and removal of asbestos from the house at 99 East St.

“But we’re going to rebid that project to be fair because prices are up due to the pandemic, labor and cost of material,” he said.

The cost will be absorbed by the property owner, Saint said.

If the property owner does not pay, a tax lien will be placed on the property.

“It will be auctioned off at the courthouse and the highest bidder will pay the costs," he said. "The city will get its money." State law allows the city to add 12% interest to the costs, Saint said.

District 5 Councilman Brent White said the two properties are in his district and the people are eager to see the properties cleared.

“I’m pleased with the appellate court’s ruling,” he said. “We’re trying to identify areas around the city that need addressing. It’s a never-ending battle.”

Saint said Joiner is not being singled out.

“We have several others in the city who are noncompliant,” he said. “We prefer to negotiate with the owners to abate the nuisance. It’s less expensive for both parties.”

He said the No. 1 complaint by the citizens is the unsightly houses.

“It’s demanded by the citizens of Moulton. They hurt property values,” he said. “We’re working with three or four other property owners trying to get them cleaned up or demolished. We just had a house removed on Morgan Street. We’re not picking on Tommy. ”

Jason White, District 2 councilman, agreed.

“We’re just trying to get the neighborhoods to look better, the city to look better,” he said. “It’s not an overnight process. Sometimes it takes longer than we expect.”

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