February 20, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---An Augusta man who recently ran for a Commission seat on a platform of cleaning up Augusta is accused by his tenants of being a slumlord.
Robert DeMello owns several properties on Sibley Street. Complaints from his tenants there may land him in jail.
According to the Richmond County Tax Assessor's website, Robert DeMello owns 18 properties in the Augusta area.
Unfortunately, code enforcement says many of them aren't fit for humans to live in.
For nearly a year, Albert Lewis has been a tenant of Robert DeMello on Sibley Street.
"Commode leaks all around," he told 12 On Your Side. "This place isn't fit to live in."
For nine months, not only has he put up with major building problems, but he also says he's had to put up with how his landlord talks to him.
Some of the names Albert says DeMello uses? "'Boy', 'stupid', 'son of a bitch'."
You may remember Robert DeMello from his 2005 attempt to unseat Betty Beard on a platform of cleaning up downtown Augusta. The highlight was a plan to force people to bring buildings up to code.
Some of his tenants say his plan didn't include fixing the properties he owns.
Both current and former tenants of Robert DeMello say the problems are aplenty, from insects inside to faulty plumbing.
"You could flush the toilet and the doo-doo would come up in the tub," one tenant said.
"The living conditions are inhumane," said another.
It's not just the insides of the home. In fact, the outside of the homes tell much of the same story: broken windows, sealed back doors and broken pipes.
12 On Your Side turned to the experts to see just how bad it is and if any laws are being broken. Larry Lariscy with Richmond County Code Enforcement came out to take a look...and he didn't like what he saw.
"Right now, I can see it doesn't meet minimum housing code," Lariscy said.
Among the things Lariscy noticed were holes in the floor around the bathtub.
"There's no rear exit in this house," Lariscy said. "This is a fire hazard."
In each of the six Sibley Street DeMello-owned homes that Lariscy inspected, he found 43 violations.
"I don't know where (DeMello's) priorities are, but clearly they are not in keeping these units in a safe and habitable existence," Lariscy said.
12 On Your Side tried to get DeMello's comment on the report on several occasions at his home, even leaving a business card on his door, but he hasn't responded.
Whether he talks to 12 On Your Side or not, Code Enforcement says DeMello must fix the homes like the one Albert lives in. If he doesn't, he could face a maximum punishment of $258,000 in fines and more than 15,000 days in jail.
These aren't DeMello's only problems. The Richmond County Tax Assessor says he's delinquent on paying his property tax on nearly a dozen of his homes.
There is some good news for these renters since we've been on the case. We checked the homes on Sibley Street each of the last two, days and there were handymen out there doing some repairs.
We'll be following up to let you know how things are going.
Of course, if you're living in any conditions like this, call us at 803-278-1212. We're here to help.