ATLANTA, Ga. - A Channel 2 Action News investigation tracked down the man at the top of Atlanta code enforcement's list of problem property owners.
As investigative reporter Aaron Diamant read through a few years' worth of city of code enforcement citations, he noticed one owner with a lot of very serious repeat problems. It took a while to track down Rick Warren, but once Diamant did, instead of giving several excuses, Warren said he's playing a long game.
In one of the city of Atlanta's most economically distressed and problem-plagued communities, Warren, a 6-foot-2, pistol-packing property owner, tends to stick out.
"If you're timid, you have no business being here," Warren proclaimed.
In the Vine city and English Avenue neighborhoods, just west of downtown, Warren's business is buying property, lots of it, often in bulk and on the cheap. At last count, he now owns more than 120.
"You either jump in with both feed and go at it, or stand back," Warren said.
The problem is many of properties he owns are boarded up and overgrown, while others are burned out and wide open.
"You got rats, possums, snakes, everything, you know, you got children out here. It's across the street from a park," complained Chris Jackson, who lives next door to one of Warren's properties on Ashby Circle.
Meanwhile, community leaders worry all of the blight blocks nearly any shot the area has of making a real comeback.
"He doesn't have any love for the community," said Charlie Simmons, a deacon at Simpson Street Church of Christ. "It's all about the dollar."
On a recent ride-along with Warren, he shared a very different story.
"I have the ability to be here every day working, you know toward what I think is going to be a pretty amazing accomplishment over time," Warren said.
Warren's short-term vision includes bringing new jobs and urban farming, but he wouldn't talk much about the end-game, at least a decade away. Warren simply said some of the properties in his growing portfolio fit into his master plan, which he's slowly fixing up. However, with an inconsistant cash flow, Warren admits the rest will sit until he can sell them off.
"At this stage, it is, it's a lot of running around a putting out fires," Warren said.
For Atlanta Code Enforcement supervisor William Kirkland, holding Warren's feet to the fire through unannounced inspections and citations is practially a weekly event. A quick open records request returned a long list of violations and fines Warren has faced or still faces over hazardous conditions.
"Once we get him to court, it's going to be between him and the judge and the attorney," Kirkland said. "Our job is to get the individual to court."
Warren was back again earlier this month to ask a judge for more time to address another recent citation.
Atlanta Code Enforcement director, Major C.J. Davis says Warren remains at the top of the list of what her office calls "problem" property owners.
"It has an impact on our financial resources," Davis said. "We spend just enormous resources and ensuring that those areas are safe."
However, Warren isn't offering up any apologies.
"I'll simply say this, my name is going to stay at that list, because I buy challenges," Warren said.
Still, no matter how hard Diamant pushed, Warren refused to give up any details about his master plan, or how he'll pull it off. Until then, Warren and code enforcement will keep duking it out in court.