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Abandoned homes pose problem for Fayette

Five abandoned homes in Fayette County have become so run-down that they should be considered for demolition, county officials said.

Three of the five homes — all in the unincorporated area of the county — were damaged by fire, said Joe Scarborough of the county’s Permits and Inspections Department.

The two others are in a partially-built state, but have been exposed to the elements for two years and should also be torn down, officials said.

Scarborough said each of those five homes are top priorities because “kids can go in and get hurt.”

For a number of abandoned homes, county staff is unable to find the property owner, as the latest occupant has left town. In the case of foreclosures, it can also be difficult to determine which bank owns the property, said Community Development Director Pete Frisina.

“Citizens in these neighborhoods are trying to find some resolution,” Frisina said. “We have tried our best to notify the property owner, to track them down. Some of these are just in limbo. We can’t quite put our finger on who owns the property.”

And in some cases, when a bank can be identified as the owner of a property, the bank will contend “we haven’t foreclosed on it yet,” Scarborough said.

“I guarantee you if it burned down somebody wants an insurance payment,” Scarborough said.

Meanwhile, the five worst homes are more than an eyesore: they have become a safety hazard, Scarborough told the Fayette County Commission last week.

Frisina said the county could pay to have the properties demolished and then place a lien on the property to recoup the money when it is sold.

County Attorney Scott Bennett said the county is under no legal obligation to demolish dilapidated structures, but the county could do so after initiating a legal action to have a home declared a nuisance.

Neighbors of rundown homes can also file such a court petition, Bennett added.

“Don’t we at some point have responsibility for that?” asked Commissioner Herb Frady. “Are we liable if somebody gets hurt?”

“We don’t have a legal duty to go out and clean up a private citizen’s property,” Bennett responded, adding that the county has the ability to do so.

Bennett said the property owner, in many cases the bank, has the liability should someone become injured at an abandoned home.

“Some of these structures have gone about a two-year period of time without getting any response or any remedy from the property owner,” Frisina said.

Scarborough said some of the abandoned homes he has inspected have no windows and no doors and have vagrants “coming in and out.”

Some abandoned homes have broken fences surrounding pools, creating a potential hazard for curious children and a breeding ground of stagnant water for mosquitos.

It was suggested that it would be cheaper for the county to pay to have the water pumped from the abandoned pools than to fix fencing issues.

“At all properties I do post a danger placard saying ‘do not enter’ and things like that to try and keep people out,” Scarborough said.

Frisina said demolition costs run from $4 to $6 per square foot, meaning a 2,000 square foot home could cost between $8,000 and $12,000 to raze.

“I just don’t know if we can commit resources to do that even in the current economic conditions,” said Commission Chairman Jack Smith. “It’ll be years, if ever, that we would recoup that money.”

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