Bobby Woodall walks his bike past the burnt-out remains of one of Buckhead investor Rick Warren’s properties in Northwest Atlanta on Thursday afternoon. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com
Photo: BEN GRAY / AJC
Photo: BEN GRAY / AJC

Buckhead investor could face jail over blighted property

UPDATE: The trial for Buckhead real estate investor Rick Warren was pushed back Monday morning so he could hire a criminal attorney to represent him. Warren, who bought up much of an impoversighed west Atlanta neighborhood, was scheduled to face a judge for conditions at a burned-out property near the English Avenue community. He is set for re-arraignment on May 18.

A Buckhead investor who bought up much of an impoverished west Atlanta neighborhood faces possible jail time when he stands trial Monday.

Rick Warren is charged with three counts of violating city housing code because of conditions at a burnt-out, debris-covered property near the English Avenue neighborhood. Violations are usually punished by fines and fees, but city code requires jail time for defendants with four or more convictions.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found in November that Warren and various partners had bought up some 10 percent of the houses in and around the community, which is just west of the Falcon’s stadium. Experts said this is an unprecedented share for a neighborhood in a major city.

Residents complained they were overwhelmed by filth and crime at his derelict houses, and Mayor Kasim Reed said Warren is worsening conditions in historic neighborhoods that already are struggling.

“While residents in these communities continue to work to restore their neighborhoods, Warren has consistently paid little to no regard to their quality of life and the impact of his business practices,” Reed said in a written statement Friday. “His vacant and abandoned properties continue to leave a trail of blight, and we will not allow this behavior to continue.”

Warren’s attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.

The investor previously told the AJC that vandals, copper thieves and illegal dumpers undermine his attempts at keeping this properties clear of violations. Yet he also admitted in sworn testimony that he knew that criminals had taken over some of them, and he had no plans to evict them or make repairs.

City code enforcement officers repeatedly issued citations against Warren, whose companies were listed as owner of some 150 properties, many purchased for only a few hundred dollars each. Yet his homes continued to cycle in and out of housing court as he took advantage of an overburdened code enforcement system, the AJC found

In the months since the AJC’s investigation, city code enforcement officers issued additional citations on at least nine of Warren’s vacant homes, all of them in west Atlanta. Two were burnt out, according to code enforcement records. One had been crushed by a tree. Others were unsecured against vagrants and vandals, overgrown, covered in junk or had damaged roofs.

A jail sentence would send an important message to speculators, said English Avenue Neighborhood Association president Demarcus Peters. They have been snapping up properties as the new $1 billion Falcons stadium is built next door, and many have left them dilapidated as they hope for real estate values to rise.

“It would put people on notice that you cannot sit back and exploit low-to-moderate income neighborhoods and wait for the profit,” Peters said.

Warren was cited Feb. 6 for the house that is the focus of Monday’s trial. It is mostly demolished now, but as recently as last week, heaps of charred wood and other debris covered the yard. After an AJC reporter photographed the property, Warren’s workers arrived to clear away the junk. The house’s singed foundation remained.

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