By Gerhard Schneibel

In Sandy Springs, where 44 percent of the population lives in rented apartments, city officials say they have to be vigilant about code enforcement in the interest of public safety.

Sandy Springs has 20,087 apartment units in 75 complexes, and code enforcement officers make a random sweep of one complex per month.

With 27 sweeps under their belts, the officers have perfected the procedure of showing up at a complex unannounced at 8:30 in the morning, setting up a command post and roving through the grounds in search of exterior code violations, each of which carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and six months in jail.

Code enforcement chief Marcus Kellum said that while the officers from his division have “have full enforcement powers behind us,” they prefer that landlords “spend the money on the repairs rather than have to pay fines, because the reinvestment in the property is win-win for all.”

When conducting sweeps, inspectors search for such issues as electrical hazards, abandoned cars, broken windows, damaged siding, rotten wood and chipped paint.

On one recent sweep, they found open electric boxes and live wires in piles of leaves that had drifted against the sides of the buildings. The same hazard was found on each of the buildings, which were most likely wired by the same electrician.

Senior code enforcement officer Brandon Allen said inspectors take pictures of all the violations so landlords know exactly what they need to fix and as evidence for any legal disputes.

“Usually on a complex we’ll see … about 20 or 30 violations. So, like I say, we give them a chance to correct them,” he said. “Some just drag their feet on it. All of them usually request an extension, and we give them that extension, and we come back and we inspect a couple of times.”

After the final inspection, however, uncooperative landlords could be forced to pay fines. In one instance, the Code Enforcement Division worked with apartment complex owners to resolve all but six violations, which were brought to court. The owners were fined $4,000.

Code enforcers generally inspect only the exterior of buildings; certified private inspectors make sure individual apartments are safe to inhabit. Sometimes officers are invited into an apartment, though. Residents have varied reactions to their presence.

“Some are foreign people, and they don’t really understand,” Allen said. “Others are like: ‘Yeah, please, come in. I’ve been asking them to fix this, and they won’t do anything about it.’ Some are receptive; they understand what we’re out here doing.”

The sweeps protect public safety, and conducting them randomly contributes to that goal, Allen said. Otherwise, landlords could renovate apartments with new siding, paint and landscaping but skip structural maintenance.

“If the people know we’re coming, they’re going to be out here working feverishly to cover up the obvious,” he said. “The job really isn’t getting done — completed — the way it should be.”

Kellum said his inspectors are willing to “put in the effort to ensure that the city meets a certain quality of life.”

“The mayor ran on the platform to embrace code enforcement and to have it in the city,” he said. “We’re basically carrying out what it is she wants to do, and that’s ensuring that individuals who live in apartment complexes understand the city is concerned about the conditions they live in.”