News

'Disgusting' townhouses get new owner

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

A Federal Way landlord narrowly avoided going back to jail last week after he managed to seal a deal on two blighted, six-unit townhouses he owned in the Westway neighborhood.

The new owner, Mason Reddick of JP Investment, met with city officials last week to determine what work needed to be done on the properties to bring them into compliance.

"He seems to be prepared," code enforcement officer Martin Nordby said, adding Reddick is concerned foremost with cleaning up the townhouses –– located across the street from each other near the intersection of Southwest 333rd Street on 24th Avenue Southwest –– before deciding what to do with them.

Reddick was unavailable for comment.

The buildings are in pretty bad shape. Windows have been smashed out of almost every unit, including the occupied ones. Various accumulations of discarded mattresses, old toilets, splintered wood, ripped up linoleum, paper wrappers and soiled clothes have been piled for years around the front porches and in the back yards of the buildings, watched over by graffiti sprayed on the sheds.

Broken appliances and cabinetry have been shoved into condemned units and spill onto porches and into carports. Water has leaked through floors, ceilings have collapsed, floors are rotted. Outlets have shorted out and heat registers have been torn from the walls.

The city barred Alan Agledal from renting seven of the 12 units to anyone. King County revoked his license to rent to Section 8 housing assistance recipients.

Agledal didn't return calls to the Mirror.

Transients apparently had been squatting in one of the empty units, leaving a detergent bucket, half-full of yellow liquid, in the kitchen and food wrappers on the floor.

Aaron Watson and his kids have lived in one of the units for two years. In that time, he said, the condition of the properties has grown worse.

“He doesn’t do anything,” he said of Agledal. “I had to redo the kitchen floor and the piping. He doesn’t want to come around because the cops willl arrest him.”

Last year, a water leak in a neighboring unit flooded Watson’s home. Agledal wouldn’t fix it, Watson said, so he had to rip up the old linoleum himself after it began to mold.

Watson opened the cabinets under the sink to show where he'd snipped the wires to the garbage disposal so they wouldn’t spark from the dripping pipes. He keeps a bucket under the sink to collect the rusty water that continues to drip.

Watson said he's tried to keep things picked up outside his unit, but it’s been a losing battle. The properties are so dirty, passersby started throwing their own garbage into the mess.

“It’s disgusting,” Watson said. “You try to clean up and people destroy it.”

The problems with Agledal’s townhouses date back several years.

In 2002, Nordby issued five notices of violation for problems he found at Agledal’s properties. Agledal didn't clean up the mess and ended up owing the city $2,500 in fines, but for months, the buildings sat in their dilapidated condition.

During an inspection in October 2002, Nordby noted he could hear water running underneath the floor in one of the units and there were carpet remnants, two toilets and broken fence pieces littering the property outside.

Nordby referred the case to city prosecutor Aaron Walls, saying Agledal had paid fines and cleaned up some of some exterior debris, but hadn’t made any effort to maintain compliance.

“Mr. Agledal has claimed this is caused by neighboring tenants,” Nordby said. “However, the condition of his property invites unwanted activity.”

Nordby noted that since 1992, there were 18 cases associated with Agledal’s rental properties, 12 of those since 2000. “In nearly all these cases, it has required considerable effort to gain ‘voluntary’ compliance,” Nordby told Walls. “Violations often recur as soon as they are resolved.

“In this case, he has cleaned up the junk outside as the notice and order required, but left this vacant rental unit open for anyone to walk in and use for whatever illicit purpose,” he said. “It is filled with broken appliances, glass, junk and evidence of its use as a drinking and drug hangout.”

Late in 2002, Nordby noted an entire building needed maintenance to address moss growing on the roof, broken windows, missing doors and collapsing gutters. The garbage was still accumulating, he said.

Despite the fines, Agledal didn’t clean up the properties or make the repairs, according to the city.

In December 2002, Nordby sent him a letter offering him the chance to enter into a voluntary correction agreement with the city, which would give him more time to make repairs and would waive the fines. On Jan. 19, 2003, Agledal signed the agreement.

Nordby said he was hopeful, but Agledal again failed to hold up his end of the bargain.

A month after the voluntary agreement was signed, Federal Way Police issued Agledal a citation for leaving four broken refrigerators and other discarded household items and appliances in the carport area of one of his units.

State law prohibits discarding or abandoning refrigerators with the doors attached, a situation in which children might climb into them and become trapped.

Police issued another citation for a similar offense a week later.

Meanwhile, in a memo to Walls, Nordby noted a list of unmet conditions of Agledal's agreement with the city.

The city filed a complaint in Municipal Court March 24, 2003, for allegedly violating the conditions of the agreement. That September, Agledal entered an Alford plea, in which he pleaded guilty without admitting wrongdoing, recognizing there would be enough evidence to convince a jury he was guilty.

The plea allowed him to take advantage of a deal offered by the city: If Agledal sold or cleaned up the properties within a year, the case against him would be dismissed. As part of the plea agreement, the city waived all the citations except for the refrigerators.

That same month, Agledal received another citation after a police officer saw “an enormous amount of junk and an abandoned boat” in front of one of the units. The officer noted the junk had been piled up for months and included “appliances, car batteries, automobile parts, mattresses, audio/visual equipment, toilets, bikes, chairs, vast amounts of scrap wood and everyday household garbage,” officials said.

The boat, which had last been registered in 1996, also contained a large amount of junk.

Walls filed another complaint in Municipal Court Sept. 12.

Last November, Agledal received another police citation, this one for six abandoned refrigerators at three of the units.

One of them was found in the carport of a tenant who said the refrigerator had brokendown about a month after he moved in. An employee of Agledal’s wasn’t able to fix it and Agledal didn’t return his phone calls, the tenant said, so he finally had to buy a new refrigerator himself. To make room for the new appliance, he put the old one in the carport.

In December, the city took Agledal to court again, this time for the refrigerators.

Last January, Agledal was again cited for discarding a refrigerator outside. The officer noted “the electric plug had been removed and ... a foul stench was being emitted from the unit.”

Walls filed another complaint in court Jan. 26. A hearing was scheduled April 7 to revoke the deferred sentence Walls had offered Agledal in 2003. After two years of notices of violations and warnings, Agledal was sentenced to 75 days in jail for violating the voluntary correction agreement, violating city zoning code and violating city ordinances.

Agledal was released May 7 on the same condition that had been offered to him earlier –– that he sell the buildings or fix them –– but his attorney, Hyon Pak, said that condition really offered only one option this time.

"The problem for him is if he wanted to clean them up, he'd need time. It leaves him really with one choice," Pak said.

Agledal put the townhouses on the market again after he was released from jail, but he turned down several offers he got for them. Nordby said he's tried several times in the past to connect Agledal with potential buyers, but he never bit.

Diane Gallegos, director of communications at Habitat for Humanity in Seattle, said the organization has gone to Agledal with offers for the buildings whenever they've been put on the market, and they made an offer again this time. "We're just waiting to see if he'll respond," she said.

The city’s legal department said it would be too costly to condemn Agledal's properties and take them through the power of eminent domain process. The city would have to have the properties appraised and then purchase them from Agledal at fair-market value, clean them up and then try to resell them, Nordby said. But demolition, another option Nordby considered, would be expensive, too.

“It’s frustrating for me because it just sits here,” Nordby said, scanning one of Agledal’s buildings. “It’s an absolute shame.”

Agledal has paid his civil fines, so now that the sale of the buildings has closed, the city is done dealing with the structures. The new owner already has expressed an interest in fixing the structural problems with the buildings, fencing them off and hauling away all the garbage.

"That's going to make a tremendous difference," Nordby said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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