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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.”



dawn69's picture

Surely, in the case of these abandoned homes, the property taxes have not been paid; in which case, the county can seize the property. Right? In that case couldn't the county trump the bank who owns the lien? I don't know -- I'm just asking. If that's the case, then could the county not auction off the property? Then, again, who would buy it?

Jeez, what a screwed up mess.

<"The most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." - Helen Keller>

Usually banks trump all creditors! They seem to operate that way and then still get bailed out.

As an addition to these houses degrading the remaining values, there seems to be an increase in people who clutter up their place so it looks like Los Angeles or Miami! I mean campers, trailers, cars, multitude of toys, etc., in their lawn at all times abandoned for the day.

I think the town has admitted that they aren't enforcing codes for this and if someone wants something done they personally must accuse the perp to the town and then they (code people) will go and tell the perp that they have been turned in by neighbors! "Chicken." (did I mention firecrackers, loud music, etc.?) Motorcycles crackling and popping numerous times per day, also.)

I know this is really late, but I just read this story and comments. When a property is seized, if a bank has a lien on that property, they become what is known as an "innocent owner" under seizure laws. Assuming the bank was not involved in a conspiracy to commit a crime (i.e. tax evasion), they have the right to retain the lien.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

While the tax collector is definitely first in line, the tax bills are not that much money. They don't usually reassess a new house until it is completed, so the tax bill here would be based upon a vacant lot - $400 or $800 if 2 years has gone by. It is not worth it to the county to get house and spend the money to fix it up. An as-is sale is possible, but not likely and the risk and liability of owning something like this is considerable.

Situation changes a little when there is a finished house with a full $4,000 annual tax bill. Again the tax collector is first in line, but usually the bank's loan amount is so much more than the tax bill so they step in and pay the taxes so they can get some of their loan amount back through a sale to someone else.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it - of course there is an alternative explanation from Bonkers right here on this page that you should consider as well.

Live free or die!

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