Kerry Johnson’s house on Vanderbilt Avenue. Photo by Renee Umsted.

Kerry Johnson bought a home at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and Worcola Street during the last week of January 2021.

She didn’t like the color of the exterior brick, so she decided to repaint it. She picked a color and hired a company. They put a sign in her front yard advertising their business.

On Feb. 5, someone submitted a 311 complaint for “construction and painting without approval or permitting,” alerting the City of Dallas.

Johnson says a notice was posted to her front door on Feb. 18, telling her she needed to submit a conservation district work review.

A spokesperson for the City of Dallas says the first notice of violation for unapproved work was posted on March 26, and that it supplied information about the process for submitting a work review. Johnson says she doesn’t remember seeing anything posted in March.

“Had no idea from my Realtor or the seller’s Realtor that I lived in a conservation district and that I needed approval to paint the exterior of the house,” Johnson says.

She submitted a work review for the paint on April 1. The next day, the senior conservation district inspector visited Johnson’s house, located in the M Streets Conservation District, along with several other sites. And the inspector realized Johnson’s windows had been replaced without approval.

Johnson was told she needed to submit a work review to replace the windows on either side of her fireplace.

The previous owners had removed the stained-glass windows from the home in 2012 without approval. They told Johnson their windows were leaking, and they asked someone to replace them. He took their deposit and never returned, so they installed a new pair of windows. And on the seller’s disclosure, they claimed the property didn’t have any code violations.

“This is April,” Johnson says. “I’ve been here for three months. And this is my responsibility?”

As of Dec. 10, no application for the stained-glass windows has been submitted.

The inspector emailed Johnson on June 16 to remind her to submit a work review and to warn that if she didn’t submit anything, a citation could be issued. Johnson didn’t respond.

The inspector emailed again Aug. 6 with a similar message. Johnson responded Aug. 9 and said the windows weren’t part of the original house, a spokesperson for the City says. The inspector asked Johnson for proof the windows weren’t original, and Johnson said they disagreed and didn’t provide evidence.

On Sept. 15, Johnson received a citation for failure to submit a conservation district work review. But she didn’t act on it, thinking she had time.

“So I’m thinking, ‘OK, when I get the third, I’ll get my ponies in order,'” Johnson says. “I mean I’d already been working with this architect.”

Johnson, who works in land development, had a little knowledge about how the process would go. She contacted the president of the conservation district, who put her in touch with an architect.

According to the City spokesperson, the citation included four pages of instructions about how to proceed, including the rule that Johnson had to contact the City of Dallas Municipal Court within 21 days of receiving the citation to enter a plea with the court — either pay the fine, request deferred disposition online, or plead guilty or no contest. Johnson could also get in touch with the senior inspector to get more information about how to handle the citation.

But Johnson never saw that, and she never contacted the City of Dallas Municipal Court. So she missed the Oct. 6 hearing date.

The architect’s first communication with the City of Dallas was Oct. 5. They stayed in touch over the next few days, with the City clarifying that the new window didn’t need to duplicate the original and going over the submittal process for a conservation district review.

“I knew that we were trying to find a solution and that I wasn’t just blowing them off,” Johnson says. “But this is not my problem. This is the prior owner who violated the code.”

“Unfortunately, when the City becomes aware of a violation with a property, we must address that violation with the current homeowner to resolve any issues and ensure compliance,” the City spokesperson said. “We cannot track down previous owners to force them to comply with a violation that may or may not have occurred while they owned the property.”

Proposed window designs for Kerry Johnson’s house. Photo by Renee Umsted.

The City didn’t hear from the architect again until Dec. 6.

On Dec. 3, Johnson received a warrant notification. “A warrant was recently issued for your arrest!” it said.

So she called the City that day but was on hold and never spoke with anyone. She visited the website listed on the warrant and saw the fine she needed to pay.

Johnson says she wants to pay the fine, now at about $600 according to the City of Dallas website. But her children advised against it, saying that paying the fine would acknowledge guilt.

She doesn’t want to lose her CPA license. And she warns everyone searching for homes to do their research and know about the neighborhood they’re moving into.

“Since 2012, no one has reported this,” Johnson says. “And it’s only because I chose to paint the exterior paint on the brick was it disclosed.”

Read more: Belmont Addition Conservation District amendment approved by City Council

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