- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) - When two pit bulls sprang out of a house and into a yard Thursday morning, it was a clear signal for Ray Quayle and his companion to head for his vehicle - quickly.

Quayle, Mason City’s rental housing inspector, has his share of obstacles to deal with every day - and on this day they included dogs, bed bugs and people taking it upon themselves to move into unoccupied homes without the landlords’ knowledge.

“You’re at risk every day, aren’t you?” said one landlord who talked to Quayle as he inspected a property.

“Pretty much,” said Quayle in the matter-of-fact tone of someone who takes it in stride that every day is a new adventure.

“I got bit by a pit bull a couple of years ago,” he told the Globe Gazette (http://bit.ly/1KpjstL ). “When I went into the house, it greeted me at the door and I thought everything would be all right. Then he tried to eat me.”

As Quayle makes his rounds, it is obvious he is on a first-name basis with most of the landlords he meets, and they offer no resistance to him inspecting their properties.

Tenants, much more often than landlords, create challenges for him, said Quayle.

Today he is dealing with a female tenant who had a girlfriend move in with her with the landlord’s permission. But soon the original tenant moved out, and without the landlord’s knowledge or permission the other woman stayed and had her boyfriend move in with her. Along with his two pit bulls.

The landlord has enlisted Quayle’s help in getting the uninvited, non-paying tenants out of the house.

Quayle is currently dealing with two other situations in which intruders have moved into unoccupied homes without the owners’ knowledge or consent.

In one of those situations, after tenants had moved out the landlord hired a cleaning crew to come in and help fix the place for the next tenant. When the cleaners arrived they encountered uninvited squatters smoking pot inside.

Quayle, in his 12th year as inspector, said there are 4,700 rental units in Mason City that he is responsible for inspecting, and it takes about five years to rotate through them all. He is frequently interrupted by complaints he has to investigate.

He’ll never admit he’s seen it all, but he’s working on it.

There was the time several years ago when he entered a home and heard and felt a crunch beneath his feet - because the floor was covered wall-to-wall with dead cockroaches.

And there was the time he came across tenants whose dwelling was filled with garbage in almost every room. When he told them they needed to get rid of it, they asked him to provide them with an itemized list.

Quayle inspected one place after tenants had moved out and discovered they had been holding dog fights inside. Another house was so filled with what a hoarder had collected, the tenant had to stand on a couple of feet of trash because there was no room on the floor.

Many of his calls are routine and take only a few minutes. On this day, he inspected a small, one-bedroom dwelling that only needed a valve replacement on a water heater. Another call was at a three-bedroom home that got a clean report card except for a smoke alarm that needed a new battery. A third place had a chimney that needed repairs.

In between, Quayle stopped at a house in southeast Mason City in which the landlord is in the process of having the tenants evicted.

They are living in tents in the backyard because the house is infested with bedbugs. Garbage is strewn throughout the yard, including the area around the tents. Eave troughs are falling off the side of the house and windows are open.

“The landlord wants the tenants out, but they won’t leave,” said Quayle. “Apparently, other people have been coming and going from the house, too. And neighbors are complaining.”

“Our only recourse is to white tag it,” he said. A “white tag” notifies the tenants - and anyone else - that the dwelling is unfit for human habitation.

“They can’t be living there,” he said. “If they’re not out in decent time we’ll call the police and get their help.”

The next stop was at a tiny house that looked as if a stiff wind could blow it over.

Quayle white-tagged it because, in his words, “It’s like a cabin out of the 1800s. It has a toilet, but no bathroom and no sink.”

Landlords appreciate his assistance in trying to deal with problems they can’t handle, Quayle said.

“They don’t want their properties damaged, and we can help prevent that,” he said. “But we also try to work with tenants.

“You have some people who may have lived in what amounts to a cardboard box all their lives and have moved into an apartment that should be like a palace to them. But they don’t know how to take care of them. If they’re really trying we try to work with them.”

He said experience has taught him some warning signs when he goes on house inspections.

“If there are two or three dogs in a window but no sign of any dog feces outside, look out. I’ve been in houses where they’re living in it and stepping around it,” he said.

“We deal with a lot of things,” Quayle said. “Stupidity is just one of them.”

___

Information from: Globe Gazette, http://www.globegazette.com/

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