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A city inspector recently found 10 barbecue grills in the backyard of this home at 1612 Fifth Ave. S.W.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
A city inspector recently found 10 barbecue grills in the backyard of this home at 1612 Fifth Ave. S.W.

Hiding in plain sight: Unlicensed home businesses
Residents complain of blight from neighbors working from home

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Home-based businesses operating without a license in Decatur have caught the attention of neighbors and city inspectors.

Sal Jasso, a business license inspector with the city's Revenue Department, recently found 10 barbecue grills in the backyard of a home. He has pictures that reveal chalk price tags on the grills, ranging from $100 to $350.

Kenneth Crutch rents the home at 1612 Fifth Ave. S.W., and according to a roofing permit nailed to a tree there, the house is owned by Walley Payton.

Attempts by The Daily to contact the tenant and homeowner were unsuccessful, but Jasso said he spoke with Crutch recently.

"I went over with one of the Community Development folks and noticed the grills," Jasso said. "I saw pricing on the grills within the last two weeks."

In a push to identify blight in Decatur, residents contacted The Daily to complain about the barbecue grills. One person said old drums in the backyard are unloaded on the weekends and converted into smoker grills with an acetylene torch.

Decatur Revenue Supervisor Ronne Harvell said the city investigated the situation.

"It looks like he's operating a business," Harvell said. "We can't issue him a license for that activity, and he's supposed to get it all cleared up."

Harvell said there is no time requirement for removing the grills, but the department would follow up on the matter this week.

"He said he was going to seek legal counsel," Jasso said. "And he has every right to, but the ordinance is there to protect the safety of the community."

Harvell said he would like to see the situation resolved without going to court.

"Nine out of 10 we make contact with are easily resolved," Harvell said. "Court is the last resort."

One caller told The Daily that former Mayor Lynn Fowler rectified the grill matter three weeks before he left office.

Decatur's Board of Zoning Adjustment has in the past two years approved 358 home occupations that let businesses operate in residential zones, but there are limitations. One requirement is that neighbors cannot be aware of the business. Employees aren't allowed to come to the home, and vehicles that display lettering are prohibited.

Community complaints

How many residential businesses are operating without licenses? The Revenue Department identifies many through complaints from the community.

Harvell said he doesn't track an exact number, but said he receives about one or two complaints a month.

"A lot of these issues for us, just like the ones with the grills, are coming as a result of (The Daily's) 'Hiding in plain sight' exposé," Harvell said.

The complaints to Community Development and Revenue departments have increased significantly, Harvell said.

"They're dealing with limited staffing resources," he said. "And we're only a third of the size of the Community Development Department."

Mayor Don Kyle said it is difficult to know whether the city has enough inspectors.

"Ideally, a small amount of backlog keeps them busy," Kyle said. "But I don't know how you measure if we have enough in Community Development or Revenue. The majority of cases are new."

Kyle said he hasn't seen a "tremendous" amount of overtime coming from the departments.

"If we start seeing inspectors crank up a lot of overtime payments, then we'll look at adding more clerical staff to take care of the paperwork load or do what is necessary," Kyle said. "I think they're doing a good job."

Unlicensed, home-based businesses are more difficult to spot than violations of the city's weed, junk and litter ordinance, Kyle said.

"Looking for violations of the business license rule is sometimes futile," Kyle said.

"We have to rely on complaint-driven situations from neighbors."

Whom should you call?

  • Call the Revenue Department to report unlicensed home-based businesses at 341-4542.

  • Call the city’s weed, junk and litter hot line to report potential violations at 341-4963.

    CORRECTION

    A story in Friday's edition on home-based businesses operating without permits listed the incorrect quadrant for a home at 1612 Fifth Ave. S.W. The article also stated that attempts to reach Wally Payton, owner of the rental property, were unsuccessful.

    The newspaper didn't find Payton's name in the phone book, couldn't find it in an Internet phone directory, and a building permit did not list the number. The newspaper, however, overlooked the name Walter Payton in the phone book. The Daily is glad to set the record straight.

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