Meth lab arrests posing problems for the properties’ former owner

PLYMOUTH - The methamphetamine problem in Marshall County reaches into more areas than just those involved with the manufacture and use of the drug.

Police have conducted two raids on properties on West Washington Street in Plymouth in the past few months, the most recent netted two arrests and an intricate methamphetamine lab on Monday. The county GIS system lists the owners of the property as Jim and Sharon Carnes.

Being listed as the owners of the property has caused both Jim and his wife to feel their reputation has been damaged in the community.

“I sold those properties on land contract over 15 years ago,” Carnes said. “Did I make an error? Yes I did. I didn’t record those contracts, but honestly most people don’t. It was a mistake that I admit and I’m paying for.”

Carnes sold the properties to Robert Gingerich in the late ‘90s and from his point of view there were no red flags as to what was happening in apartments that were still in his name.

“I’ve talked to Robert regularly, he made his payments I had no reason to believe there was anything out of the ordinary,” said Carnes. “Did he miss a payment now and then? Yes. But those things happen. I knew he had taxes to pay and other things at those points when he missed but it was usually just a late payment. We communicated and I understood what was going on.”

“There are a lot of laws out there governing land contracts - and they are good laws - but if a bank had entered into the same contract what kind of flags would that put up in this case. If they were listed as the owner?”

It was that way of doing business that Jim and Sharon - both now in their 70s and retired - pride themselves on as part of their Christian faith.

“When we were actually operating properties we tried to do business with our heart and not our heads,” said Carnes. “We knew some of our renters had circumstances in their lives and we wanted to be a help to them.”
Carnes believes that the problem has become a difficult one for property owners to deal with.

“When we rented to others we did background checks but honestly it was me and my wife,” said Carnes. “We couldn’t possibly do the kind of check a big realtor could do. Those who have multiple arrests are easy to sort out. It’s those who don’t have a lengthy record it’s harder to find.”

“Frankly if somebody came to us who was in rehab, and we knew them, it’s likely we would have rented to them. We would have had no reason not to and likely we would have had some sort of claim of discrimination if we hadn’t.”

The problem also involves the rights of tenants to their privacy - a reasonable right for all. Though landlords retain a right to periodically inspect the property they’ve rented, it isn’t common practice without a reason, and - as Carnes found out - it can be dangerous.

“I once had a man with an axe threaten me because I was going to inspect his apartment,” he said. “I don’t know about you but I wasn’t all that anxious to inspect his property at that point. Those things happen.”

The balance of renters rights and those of the property owner have always been prone to clash. Carnes says that property owners walk a fine line to respect tenants’ rights to privacy and right to rent without discrimination, and responsibility for what happens in those rental properties.

The bottom line in it all for Carnes is character. He knows he is not complicit in wrongdoing but wants the record to show that.

“Will I get through this? Personally, yes, no question,” he said. “But I have always lived by the (Biblical) Pauline Doctrine to live responsibly for your weaker brother. If somebody who doesn’t know me sees this and thinks that I’m not living the kind of life that we should aspire to then I’ve failed in my calling as a man of God.”

(Published in the May 2, 2013 print edition of The Pilot News.)