Rundown houses, junk cars and overgrown lots. Getting rid of such neighborhood eyesores is the main reason the City of Biloxi set up its community court program. Community court began prosecuting code violations one year ago.
Those involved with the court program say it is definitely showing results. Code enforcement officials say the court is a strong deterrent that prompts violators to take action. In fact, 90 percent of the property violations are settled without going to court. The very threat of prosecution is often enough.
The owner made several improvements to a house on Sophie Street after getting a notice to clean things up, or appear in community court. The problems? Three abandoned motor vehicles. A lot of trash and debris in the back. The building was open and accessible. No water. No lights. No gas. Vagrants were coming and going. A warning notice was enough to convince the property owner to make improvements. The case never made it to community court. "They've got a permit now to fix the house up. As a result of I think the threat of going to community court, we got some action," said Hank Rogers, Code Enforcement Official.
Getting action to clean up a lot on Benachi required the court's intervention. The judge who oversees such cases says the goal is always addressing the problem not necessarily punishing the violator. "We want people to be good neighbors. You've got property that affects the value of other property. We want you to take care of your property so you don't devalue the neighborhood," Dean Wilson, Community Court Judge told WLOX.
Two dilapidated houses on Main Street are no longer there. Both were ordered torn down by the city. "We're not out there trying to punish. We're out there trying to focus on making the city enjoyable to live in. Safe to live in," Wilson said.