Washington Co. Chancellor dismisses order to close Haven of Mercy, city attorney releases statement

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The order to vacate and close the Haven of Mercy shelter in Johnson City has been dismissed Monday morning.

Washington County Chancellor John Rambo dismissed the case in chancery court.

The shelter had previously been granted access back into the building last week until Monday’s hearing, following approval by the Johnson City Board of Dwelling Standard and Review.

Residents of the shelter may remain in the building as Haven of Mercy works to make improvements to the facility.

The city had issued an order to vacate and close the shelter on January 29, saying the shelter had violated multiple safety codes.

Monday afternoon, City of Johnson City attorney, Sunny Sandos, released the following statement about the latest developments in the case.

“Until the necessary action is taken to bring the building into compliance with applicable building codes, the building remains unfit and unsuitable for human occupants. Despite this finding, the owner has fought to keep the residents housed in the structure that is known to have electrical and mechanical violations that render the condition of the building at an increased risk of fire hazards and other calamities. The deficiencies identified that resulted in a finding that the building is unsafe all remain unaddressed through the legal process required by state and local means. After the building was vacated on February 19, a resident of the Haven reached out to the City and informed the City that the owner did not tell him until 8pm the night before that he would have to vacate, despite the order to vacate being issued on January 28. Because the City wants to ensure that all occupants have a voice, the vacate order was rescinded and moved to the next available date (pursuant to procedural requirements), which is a special called meeting on March 11. At that time, the residents will have an opportunity to tell the BDSR how temporarily relocating while the building is made safe will cause them immediate or irreparable harm. It is extremely unfortunate that the owner failed to inform his occupants, but the BDSR wants to be confident that all residents who wish to be heard will have the opportunity. 

The goal remains the same, that the building be made safe for these residents. The residents are truly the only ones with anything at risk in this situation. Unfortunately, what they risk could be their lives. It is shocking to the senses and a cause of bewilderment that the owner has known of these building code violations since July 2020 but waited until the day of the last BDSR meeting (February 25) before actually engaging an architect. If the owner will follow the requirements, that are the same for every like property across the City, then there wouldn’t be any need for the BDSR to issue an order to vacate in an attempt to preserve human lives.”

Sunny Sandos, City of Johnson City attorney

Amber Floyd Lee, the attorney for the Haven of Mercy, sent a statement to News Channel 11 Monday afternoon in response to Sandos:

“Upon reading city attorney Ms. Sando’s statements this morning we are saddened that the City is so singularly focused on removing the residents of the Haven of Mercy from the downtown area. The repairs to the building are underway and are capable of being completed while the residents stay in their home. We are concerned about continued misstatements by the City to both the press and the Board of Dwelling and Standards Review and anticipate there will be further legal action if the Board tries to remove the residents again.”

Amber Floyd Lee, attorney for Haven of Mercy

On Thursday, February 25, the shelter informed city officials that a contractor had already been hired to make the necessary repairs and adjustments in order for them to meet the safety standards.

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