The city of Dallas plans to begin enforcing housing codes in areas affected by the tornado that devastated parts of Northwest Dallas in October, according to a memorandum signed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax.
That means homeowners who still have partially collapsed structures, broken windows, fallen walls, scattered debris and other issues may be fined or summoned to appear before a judge.
The memo submitted by Broadnax to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and City Council members on Feb. 14 stated that a letter would be sent this month to more than 100 residents in the tornado’s path to make them aware of violations on their properties.
“Several months have gone by and health and security concerns are deepening,” the memo states.
City officials said that the letter will describe violations found on the residents’ properties but that the potential for citations or fines would not be addressed for the time being.
If violations remain unaddressed, fines will be enforced, a city official explained.
“A citation fine ranges from $50 to $2,000. The $2,000 fine is upon the third conviction within a two-year period,” Roxana Rubio, a public affairs officer for the city, said in an email.
“A resident will not be arrested if they received a civil citation,” Rubio said. “However, if the citizen received a criminal citation, does not pay the fine and does not appear in court, an arrest warrant can be issued.”
Residents whose properties might be targeted had mixed reactions to the city’s plans. While some have made progress on repairing their properties, others have only just begun to pick up debris or are in the process of demolishing what’s left of their homes.
John Porras, 69, who has lived on Marsh Lane for 35 years, lost half of his house to the tornado. He didn’t have insurance to cover the damage.
“The insurance I had was just for fire and lightning damage, so I wasn’t covered,” Porras said. “The city was supposed to help, but I haven’t got a penny.”
He and his family live and work in the still-standing half of their home. Even though they plan to rebuild, they don’t have money to do so at this point.
Porras said he was outraged by the city’s announcement.
“We have given everything we could,” he said. “Now that we are in need, why don’t they give us something?
“I’m doing what I can, but I’m limited,” he said. “I will tear down what’s destroyed and patch up what still stands. But I can’t do it now.”
Chapter 27 of the city code covers minimum housing standards. It says, for instance, that structures must be free from decay and must not contain objects posing a danger, like beams on the floor or hanging planks.
Under the code, roofs must be leak-proof, walls must not have holes, and broken windows are forbidden. The same goes for loose cables and faulty electrical wiring.
Dozens of properties in tornado-hit areas still look ravaged by the storm.
Álvaro de Anda, an immigrant from Guanajuato, Mexico, and other workers are demolishing a destroyed home on Wimberley Court.
The crew has been working at the site for weeks. Their task: Tear down everything still standing without damaging the foundation and pipelines so that the home can be rebuilt.
De Anda confirmed homes destroyed by tornadoes contain dangers.
“I think people should hurry up because, for instance, swimming pools are full of water,” he said. “We need people to clean up the swimming pools because as the warmer season approaches, mosquitoes will start to thrive. So, it’s OK to get tough about it.”
The area, just northeast of Walnut Hill and Marsh lanes, used to be filled with large houses. Today, blank spaces dot the area where houses once stood.
On Oct. 20, before the tornado hit, James Wiggins and his wife had been back inside their home for just three days after spending six months renovating it.
They had been carrying stuff to their home all day. By evening, everything was reduced to ruins.
Although the Wigginses’ insurance covers tornadoes, they haven’t seen a cent because they were told the home is considered only a partial loss — even though it suffered extensive damage.
“We have had some theft incidents in the area, and we understand they want to act,” Wiggins said, referring to the city memo. “But this is not as fast as we’d like. The city has been very supportive, so let’s hope in a few months we will be a renovated community.”
On Tuesday, exactly four months after completing renovating his home, James Wiggins started demolishing it, determined to rebuild it again, someday.