City moving forward taking down dilapidated housing

  • Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thirty-five dilapidated structures in the city limits may be coming down soon, after a vote at the Aug. 21 City Council meeting.

The council unanimously voted to continue forward with complaint petitions from the Unfit Dwelling Ordinance, a push to clean up the city that began two years ago, according to Building and Zoning Administrator Rick Martin.

“Approximately two years ago, Council, in an effort to help our [Housing and Community Development] department started cleaning up the neighborhoods, set aside $75,000 each budget year for us to use to begin the process of taking down these dwellings that are collapsing, falling down and in really bad shape. The last two years have been pretty good, we did 35 total last year,” he said.

Martin said there are about 80 to 90 structures left of the list of unfit dwellings he and Code Enforcer Janet Grant have identified and inspected.

At the council meeting, Martin asked the body for permission to continue with 35 more structures from the list.

According to the City of Georgetown Code of Ordinances, Chapter 5, Article 6, Section 102, when the city finds “dwellings which are unfit for human habitation … rendering those dwellings unsafe, dangerous or detrimental to the health, safety or morals or otherwise inimical to the welfare of the residents of the city, the city may and shall exercise its police powers to repair, close or demolish any such dwellings in the manner provided herein.”

The law describes a process for the city to follow to exercise those “police powers.” Martin completed step “c,” to present a draft complaint petition and ask city council permission, at the meeting.

He described the nine-step process:

The code enforcer identifies properties that are violating city codes and takes photos.

Martin follows up with a building inspection. He posts information on the door of the home to let people know the property is unsafe.

Then he drafts a complaint about the property and presents the draft complaint petition to the council for approval.

Next Martin goes before the Construction Board of Appeals with the information.

Once approved, the complaints are served and filed with the clerk of court. The owners have 60 days to respond.

After the waiting period, the city has the right to move forward with demolishing the property.

The last step is to file a municipal lien on the property.

He said fortunately, the order often gets the owners involved before the city demolishes.

“Once I get [the placards] posted, I think it’s a wake-up call. [The owners] call me up and say ‘Rick, I want to go ahead and see what I can do to salvage my home.’

“Then we’ll work with them as far as plans, permits, whatever needs to be done. … Some say ‘Rick, I’m sorry, I’m going to go ahead and take down the house myself.’ … .

“When we start moving with the paperwork and the owners see that’s posted, it usually generates some interest.”

He said the process takes about four to six months before the city can demolish the buildings. Each demolition costs about $5,000.

Because the process takes so long, Martin’s goal is to bring more houses on the list before the council as soon as he can.

“My goal is to have another 35 or 40 in two to three months to council.”

He said so far the community response to the project has been positive.

“So far it’s been pretty favorable. I’ve had a few people that didn’t like it, but most people are glad for it, especially the neighbors who want to get the properties cleaned up.”

City Council received the report favorably at the meeting and voted unanimously to move forward, but there was discussion about the ninth step in the process, invoking a municipal lien on the property.

Councilman Rudolph Bradley asked to clarify if the city had liens on any of the properties. Martin said no, and the final step in the process is up to the council.

“It’s not creating a hardship on that person at that time,” said Councilwoman Carol Jayroe about the liens.

“It would be my recommendation to treat everyone the same and file the municipal liens.”

The body agreed to discuss the liens more when the paperwork was farther along.

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