AUGUSTA — City councilors in Augusta have retroactively declared an apartment at a Taylor Street rental property to be a dangerous building, even though the unit has been cleaned and rented out again.

Officials said the cleanup included removal of human feces, urine and garbage, after which the apartment had to be sanitized and renovated.

The unanimous vote Thursday by city councilors to declare the apartment unit a dangerous building was necessary for the city to be able to bill the property owner for the nearly $5,000 paid to environmental cleanup firm Clean Harbors to clean out the apartment, which was so contaminated that portions of the walls had to be removed because they could not be cleaned.

The unit was also infested with flies and rodents, which the owners said has also been corrected.

Rob Overton, director of code enforcement for the city, said he inspected the apartment, identified as unit 3, on Sept. 15. He said he arrived to find the tenant stuck inside the apartment and unable to get out, and that the condition of the unit constituted a public health hazard.

Overton said the apartment was full of garbage and human waste, and the tenant was unable to properly care for herself. He said garbage filled a majority of the living space, and the toilet was plugged and not usable.

Steve Leach, the city’s health officer and deputy fire chief, said officials were able to get into the apartment to remove the tenant and get her care.

Scott Bryant, owner of the property at 30 Taylor St., said he was unaware the tenant was an apparent hoarder. He said when he had asked to inspect the unit before, she declined because she said she was not vaccinated and did not want him to come in. He said he did not know the apartment had fallen into such squalid condition.

Overton said once the condition of the apartment was discovered, the owner of the property was given 24 hours to remedy the public health hazard, a timeframe he acknowledged to councilors was “not really something that was achievable.” Overton said with the expectation the owner would not be able to meet that timeframe, the city contacted Clean Harbors, which sanitized the apartment Sept. 17.

“After that was done, we approved the apartment and it was turned back over several days later to the property owner,” Overton said. “There were no potential hazards on the property when we left.”

Bryant said extensive cleaning and renovation efforts were made beyond what the city had done, and the unit has since been rented to a new tenant.

“I put over $2,000 into that apartment since it’s been taken and cleaned,” Bryant said. “Every inch of that was cleaned. It has been painted, new floors have been put in. It’s currently rented and I’ve had no problems with mice or flies or anything. It’s actually beautiful. It was before. And it is again now.”

Bryant said he tried to meet the city’s 24-hour timeframe to have the unit cleaned, but could not get cleaning companies, including Clean Harbors, to call him back in time. He said he will pay the $5,000, and had just asked that the city allow him to pay the unanticipated cost in payments.

“I’ve been renting for 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Bryant said. “I don’t have any problems paying this. I realized it’s my responsibility. The tenant will never pay this. All I ask is the payments be in a manner I can afford them.

“I’m just looking to make reasonable monthly payments — $200 or $300 a month. Something I can afford. Something I could guarantee I could make every month. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t have $5,000 just sitting in the bank.”

City officials said the bill for the cleanup would go to Bryant, to be paid within 30 days. But if he does not pay in those 30 days, the cost would be added to his tax assessment for next year. Mayor David Rollins said that would mean Bryant would have about 16 months before the cost of the cleanup would be added to his property tax bill.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins thanked Bryant for coming forward in such a straightforward way and cooperating with the city, saying the cooperation was a good example of a problem being resolved with care, compassion and common sense.

Judkins also said it was not lost on city officials that Bryant is also providing rental units to five other tenants, and that the structure is a good-looking building.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind applauded the city’s code enforcement office and Fire Department for their handling of “what appeared to be a very awkward situation.”

“There was a person involved,” Lind said, “and now that (unit) is rented again, so somebody has shelter. I know how incredibly difficult these things are. Thank you for handling it with grace and kindness and humanity.”

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