LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Just a few blocks from downtown Louisville, along Market Street in the Portland neighborhood, there’s mystery surrounding three homes.
“This is the stove that we use for the heat,” Leah Pierce said.
Pierce lives at 2739 West Market Street where she says things are not only bad but dangerous.
The electric is often cut off at her rental property – a utility she says is supposed to be included in her nearly $400 monthly rent.
In the four months she’s lived there, Pierce has paid nearly $1600 in rent.
“Our electric was illegally hooked up from one breaker box to another breaker box,” she said.
WHAS11 News found a long list of violations not only at her home, but two neighboring homes as well.
Holes in the ceiling, exposed wiring, extension cords connected dangerously from one home to another and no electricity and illegal boarding among others.
The single-dwelling homes had as many as 6 families living in them.
All of the tenants say they paid rent to one man – Gary Vanvactor.
He’s listed by the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administration as the owner of 2737 West Market.
In 2011, he signed a contract for deed making him legally responsible for the maintenance of all three properties and to maintain the utility services.
Each month, Vanvactor came to collect rent from all of the tenants like Jerceria Whittle, who lived there for a year and recently had a newborn child.
Johnny Archer: Why did you continue to pay him if you didn’t have electricity?
“Because I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Whittle said.
WHAS11 went looking for Vanvactor at several of his listed addresses but he couldn’t be found.
“And that is the nature of our problem is finding people. If they don’t want to be found, they kind of become like gas and they really evaporate into thin air,” Jim Mimms of Metro Codes and Regulations said.
Metro Codes and Regulations were asked why so many were living in deplorable conditions despite some of the violations at the homes which date back to June 2013.
“It’s a bit of a shell game going on here. We site the owner for very egregious violations. And then the owner goes and pays the bills and gets the utilities turned back on,” Mimms said.
Several days after WHAS11 talked to officials at Codes and Regulations, they came out to the property and ordered all of the tenants to move out immediately. It wasn’t too long after the fire at the home on 2737 West Market Street burned completely to the ground.
Arson investigators are calling the fire suspicious and would like to talk to the owner, Gary Vanvactor.
Codes and Regulations say this is not an isolated problem in Louisville.
“It is around. I don’t want to say these 3 properties, problem solved. We probably have to be more egregious than this,” Mimms said.
Since our investigation began in November, several warrants have been issued for Vanvactor’s arrest for theft and building code violations.
Pierce says being a single mother of two makes it difficult to just get up and move.
“Because it’s hard to save deposit money. Some people want $1100, $1200, $1500 to move. As a single parent, I can come up with first month’s rent but having that deposit money on hand is more challenging than getting other things,” she said.
Pierce adds she was able to save some money and move before the city had the tenants vacate the homes.
We followed up on Jeceria Whittle and found she moved to Beecher Terrance in downtown Louisville. She says things are much better for her and her baby.
“I have cable, TV, washer, dryer, all that stuff I need to wash my clothes for my baby. Just everything is going better now.
As for the rest of the tenants, Codes and Regulations went back to make sure everyone was out of the homes after they ordered them to vacate the property. They say no one answered.
The warrant is still out for Gary Vanvactor’s arrest.