Paint it back

Anarchist collective in Edgewood claims unfair enforcement by code officials

An anarchist collective says it was ordered by the city to cover up a multicolored and radically expressive house in Edgewood with a fresh coat of paint, wiping out occasionally controversial political artwork that has been visible on the Mayson Avenue building for half a decade.

Known as the Teardown House, the building is the base of the Teardown Community, a group that runs Atlanta’s Food Not Bombs program and operates a “free store” off the porch offering food and clothes to people in need. Last year it held a neighborhood cook-out, advertised with a flier that welcomed residents but said “no cops.”

Marlon Kautz, who co-owns and has lived in the house for six years, says an Atlanta Police Department code inspector told him on March 9 to remove the expressive paintings and “political art” covering the house. But he argues the designs covering the house’s exterior are not graffiti.

After refusing to remove the artwork on the home, he says, they received a citation on March 14 via certified mail for “peeling paint” and graffiti. If the problems weren’t fixed, he says the citation warned, they could face an up to $1,000 fine or up to 60 days in jail for each violation.

Kautz says the house has not caused a problem in the past. But he says the neighborhood’s transition from predominantly black and working-class to more affluent, what he calls an “unjust” change, plus some Teardown members’ participation in Copwatch of East Atlanta, which monitors and raises awareness about police activity, have contributed to the pressure that Teardown is now facing about the home’s exterior.

APD Spokesperson Elizabeth Espy says code enforcement has received “several anonymous complaints” about the house for “several years,” pointing to four other cases dating back to 2012.

“The [APD] investigates incidents based on the merits of the case, not because of the person or owner’s political leanings,” Espy said in an email.

Gerry Weber, an Atlanta constitutional lawyer, represented Kautz in a different case against the city involving APD officers seizing Kautz’s camera when he was filming a 2010 arrest in Little Five Points. The case was ultimately settled.

Weber says Kautz has not contacted his office about the recent citations, but “if indeed the police are targeting the home for code violation based on the group’s advocacy about police practices, it would present a First Amendment issue.”

To prove discrimination, Weber says, there would have to be evidence that other homes with peeling paint did not receive the same citations.

Kautz says he received strong support from community members and offers to help repaint Teardown, which they repainted over the weekend. Artists have also contributed new political artwork, he says.