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January 30th, 2013 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Double Standard? No Sweat.

Randy Leonard busted businesses for code violations. His own sauna was off-limits.

news1_3913ILLUSTRATION: chrisdanger.com
Former City Commissioner Randy Leonard was a stickler for the rules when it came to safety—especially when it meant cracking down on properties that didn’t follow city codes.

But Leonard’s commitment to code compliance didn’t extend to his own house, which he has been trying to sell for several months.

Leonard served 25 years as a firefighter, nine years as a Democratic state lawmaker from Portland, and more than 10 as a commissioner. A landmark 1997 bill he sponsored beefed up requirements for smoke alarms in new Oregon homes, a policy Leonard called his greatest legislative accomplishment.

As city commissioner, Leonard oversaw the Bureau of Development Services, which issues permits and performs building-code inspections.

But Leonard took the job further than anyone has in years. He created what he called the Housing Interdiction Team—or the HIT team, as it became known—made up of employees from Development Services and the Police and Fire bureaus.

Leonard first used his HIT team against slumlords, and then noncompliant downtown businesses, such as Cindy’s Adult Bookstore and the Greek Cusina.

Leonard’s team drove both Cindy’s and the Greek out of business. He later targeted food carts in 2010. He noted that carts in two downtown pods had added decks and patios and had inspectors go after them.

Leonard was such a stickler for code enforcement that he even deputized Water Bureau employees to compile a list of companies violating the city’s sign code.

Leonard is now trying to sell his 3,900-square-foot house, which he purchased in 2004, in outer Southeast’s Pleasant Valley neighborhood.

Soon after leaving office four weeks ago, Leonard wrote to a former subordinate in the Bureau of Development Services that he needed his help.

“My first week of retirement has been busy,” Leonard wrote in a Jan. 3 email WW obtained under a public-records request. “I agreed to a purchase price on my house Christmas Eve and got the inspection report back from the buyers.”

“The sauna in the basement did not get permitted when it was built,” Leonard added. “I need to get it legalized as a condition of the sale.”

Leonard was already having trouble unloading the house. Records show he purchased the home for $462,000 and borrowed to make improvements, leaving him with a $506,000 mortgage as of December 2010.

Records show Leonard struck a deal with the buyer for $399,000, far below what he owes and his original asking price of $439,000.

On four previous occasions when the house was for sale, the brokers’ listings made no mention of a sauna in the home, including when Leonard bought it.

But when Leonard listed the house on the market last summer, accompanying photographs showed a handsomely appointed sauna. City codes require permits and inspections for saunas. As Leonard acknowledges in his email, his didn’t get either.

WW called Leonard to ask him about the sauna. The normally chatty Leonard said he didn’t want to talk.

“I’m retired,” Leonard says. “I don’t do interviews anymore.”

When asked specifically whether the sauna was in the house when he bought it or he had it installed, Leonard replied, “It was nice talking to you,” and hung up.

The city can fine residents who perform unpermitted work on their homes or even force them to undo that work. If the work meets code, inspectors often approve it.

So what happened with Leonard’s sauna?

The recipient of Leonard’s email, Jim Nicks, inspection services manager at Development Services, immediately put one of his top men on the job.

“I’m asking Joe Botkin…to work with you on permitting the sauna,” Nicks wrote Leonard in a Jan. 4 email. “If it’s only a pre-fab unit, it may only need an electrical permit.”

Botkin was an ally of Leonard’s, serving as one of four primary members of the HIT team that shut down Cindy’s and the Greek Cusina. Botkin didn’t respond to a call from WW.

“Oh, my God!” said Ted Papas, whose Greek Cusina closed under city pressure in 2010, when told Leonard had an unpermitted sauna in his home. “Code compliance was the tool he used to put me out of business.”

Papas admits he made alterations to his business without proper permits. He is suing the City of Portland in federal court, however, alleging the city pursued a vendetta against him.

Papas says Leonard is a hypocrite, who skirted city code to save himself a few dollars.

“Whatever Randy Leonard did was for himself, not for anybody else,” Papas says. “He speaks in public one way, but when he goes home his thoughts are about how to help Randy Leonard.” 

 
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