By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — There's no way around it — where there are rentals, there will be evictions.
In Clayton County, with 68 percent of properties rented out, dispossession hearings, known to most as evictions, rank third highest in the state, said Chief Magistrate Judge Daphne Walker.
"We just have to face facts that 68 percent of our properties is rentals," she told a group Thursday during the first in a series of Lunch and Learn seminars. "We have to cater to the rental community."
Walker said her staff works toward helping landlords streamline the application process to prevent a turnstile of evicted tenants.
"We're seeing some improvements in the rental process," she said. "We started the Safe Communities Initiatives to help landlords screen applicants. The police department does background checks and there is a uniform lease agreement available on our website to help landlords who have no experience in renting."
Walker said some hand-crafted lease agreements are simply not enforceable by the courts.
"We also encourage landlords to include a crime clause to help with evictions when tenants have been arrested," she said. "We're working with them to get the best quality of renters, so landlords can make more informed decisions on renters."
Magistrate judges also hear county code enforcement issues. Walker said she worked closely with the Board of Commissioners to get the Code Enforcement unit moved back under the Clayton County Police Department.
"There are certain people who don't want to cooperate with code enforcement officers and they had no arresting powers," she said. "This move has been very effective to keep residents in compliance. Anyone who has to interact with a code enforcement officer, I will tell you that their first preference is to work with you."
Common violations include parking on grass, basketball goals and abandoned vehicles.
"If you're parking, it must be on cement," she said. "You can't have inoperative or untagged vehicles on your property. You can't have vehicles with flat tires that can't be moved."
She encouraged residents to read the county's code section, which is updated as ordinances are adopted and accessible online through library.municode.com.
"You need to be familiar with the code sections because some of the convictions call for six months in jail and a fine," said Walker.
Walker was elected the county's first black chief magistrate judge in 2004 and is in her second term. In addition to her judicial duties, Walker is active in the community, primarily focusing on disadvantaged young girls.
"I started this program years ago," she said. "This year, seven of the girls I've worked with graduated from law school. Being able to see young people excel is really important to me."
Her previous work also includes coaching a mock trial team at Riverdale High School.
The seminars are sponsored by the Clayton County Democratic Party. Directed by Pat Pullar, the series will be conducted throughout the summer and promises to provide valuable information about difference issues, services and how to better understand what elected officials do and how to access their offices.