Neighbors voice concerns, speak up against drug dealing and prostitution in the neighborhood
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A vacant house in the Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis has become a haven for prostitution, drug use, and other criminal activity. Its neighbors called the city for help, and the city listened. It brought a case to Shelby County Environmental Court but there’s a major catch keeping the case from moving forward: the owners of the home cannot be found.
As that help stalled, neighbors called Action News 5. The Action News 5 Investigators have been covering problem properties for several years as they impact neighbors, attract crime, and bring down home values. There are tens of thousands of vacant homes that have been left to rot around the city, products of disinvestment, predatory mortgage loans, and other economic issues.
The illicit activity at the home on Kippley in Binghampton has been caught on neighbors’ surveillance cameras - many of the videos are too shocking to show in full.
“The neighbors? Good people. The neighborhood? Aside from this situation, not bad,” said Will Landon, who lives nearby and says he has tried everything to take back the neighborhood he’s lived in for nearly a decade.
Yet, day after day and night after night his security cameras capture activity meant for the privacy of one’s home.
“These two people are actually having sex on the porch,” Landon said as he showed The Investigators one of dozens of videos on his phone. “They’re being run off right now by my wife.”
Landon and his wife aren’t the only neighbors who have witnessed this type activity.
Revival Tabernacle Holiness Church also sits across from the vacant property on Kippley street.
“Some of them are going through so many things and we see so much,” said Mary Tunstall’s family member who started the church decades ago. “People need help. They have habits.”
Those “habits” are fed, according to neighbors, by the residents of a nearby home. The “customers” stop there then go to the empty house.
“They all over the porch doing whatever they do,” said Tunstall. “No shame.”
“We don’t want to shame anyone for what’s going on in their lives,” said Landon. “But when it’s impacting the overall wellbeing of the neighborhoods, the kids, something’s got to give.”
Landon says he’s called 311 and the Memphis police non-emergency number dozens of times over the past two years.
We found 16 reported code violations for the house in just the last year and half.
The good news is that a case was recently filed in environmental court against the property owners but the owners have not been summoned to court because they cannot be found.
According to county records, the owners are Ghassan El-Tayech and Damien Curtis. We found El-Tayech owns 76 properties across Shelby County. We entered each address into the City of Memphis 311 tracker and found half of his properties have racked up nearly 100 code complaints in the last year and a half alone.
Records also show the other owner, Damien Curtis, co-owns 12 of these problem properties.
We tried finding the owners ourselves, and visited the home addresses listed for both owners but couldn’t find either.
One of the biggest obstacles preventing the city from tearing down vacant homes, or another owner from fixing them up, is that many of the owners currently on the deeds cannot be found.
While the court case against the Kippley house stalls, the neighbors are left waiting for resolution. Recently, someone tried to break into the church so security cameras and an alarm system were installed.
“You shouldn’t have to have all this stuff. This is a church,” said Tunstall.
As for Landon, he has a message for the owners; wherever they are.
Either find somebody good to move in or let them be torn down.
The city is still trying to contact the property owners of this neighborhood nuisance. The next court date is set for later this month.
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