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James Conway, a resident at Key West Apartments, formerly Regency Terrace Apartments, looks in December 2018 over the white tag placed on his door by a Code Enforcement official giving him 30 days to vacate his apartment.

MASON CITY | A temporary injunction filed on behalf of residents in the former Regency Terrace Apartments – now Key West – was ended by Second Judicial Court District Judge DeDra Schroeder. 

The case was kickstarted in early November 2018 when the city "white-tagged" the complex for "health and safety concerns" during inspections following the sale of the property to Quad Cities Accommodators LLC in late-October. That initial move sent 30 or so residents packing almost right away while about a dozen stayed behind.

Attorneys Diane DiPietro Wilson and Michael Byrne, who were working on behalf of several of the apartment complex's residents, then filed a temporary injunction with the court on Nov. 19. That move effectively kept the remaining tenants from Regency Terrace in their homes while they looked for new housing options (those on HUD, including military veterans, had 30 days).

In a hearing for the case Dec. 17, city attorneys Hugh Cain and Brent Hinders argued that such a move was "illegal" and enjoined the city from "its legitimate powers to protect the health and safety of citizens."

Schroeder, the judge, found in favor of the city's argument which hinged on evidence that asbestos materials were contained in the apartment complex and lead paint was likely. 

"The remodeling and reconstruction at the apartment complexes has disturbed asbestos, probable lead paint, and mold in the buildings," Schroeder wrote. "It is evident that danger and harm is probable with continued occupancy of the apartments."

Though several of the residents of Regency Terrace alleged that the tags were "vague" and failed to disclose specific hazards, Housing Inspector Raymond Quayle testified in court that "nothing in the ordinance that requires advertising every hazard on an actual placard."

The judge concurred. She noted in her ruling that it was unlikely for the petitioners to "succeed on the merit of their claims" because the housing code was followed when the complex was white-tagged by Quayle.

Wilson, the attorney for the tenants, repeatedly raised issues with this particular action and worried that the city's power was a bit too broad.

"The city ordinance is really vague about setting up the amount of power the housing inspector has," Wilson said. "My concern is to what level should a person be deprived of their homes."

No appeal has been filed which complies with the specific requirements of the code. The tenants are still able to request a hearing with the Mason City Housing Authority but that wouldn't be until after they have already been moved out. 

But Wilson, who has worked with Iowa Legal Aid for 15 years, reiterated that the ordinance is "confusing as to how to file an appeal."

"The city needs to look at the requirements and spell them out, they're pretty convoluted," she said.

At this point the named petitioner in the case, Lyle Laird, a Vietnam veteran, is still uncertain about what his next move is. He said that he's very disappointed with how it turned out and doesn't know how much time he has left. 

"I thought I was moving to Colorado, but I don't know how I'm going to get there," Laird said. "I'm just taking it day-by-day I guess."

Photos: White tags force Mason City renters out of homes

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