Every neighborhood has one…or two…or three.
Neglected homes standing in disrepair, the property often piled with debris ranging from scrap wood to discarded appliances to rusting hulks of automobiles. Many appear vacant, but some host occupants who seem to come and go with no rhyme or reason.
Yes, they’re eyesores. Many are fire hazards. They also provide a fertile breeding ground for drug and other illegal activity.
So what can be done?
Reports of suspected criminal activity should go directly to the police. If you see illegal activity in progress call 911. It’s the best way to get responders there fast.
Reports of eyesores and potential code violations should go the city’s Development Services Department. Reports can be filed in person, by phone at 425-771-0220, or at the Development Services website via the online Code Enforcement Action Request form.
“We regularly receive reports from citizens alerting us to possible code violations, and hazardous situations,” said Shane Hope, City of Edmonds Director of Development Services. “Mike Thies is our code compliance officer, and it’s his job to investigate each complaint. He’ll make a physical visit to the site, note any code violations, and write up a report detailing these.”
Hope cautions that the report will include only actual violations of City codes, and not things like not mowing the lawn, which neighbors may find offensive but are not code violations.
“If you’re interested in monitoring the progress of your complaint, Mike is happy to follow up and keep you informed,” she added. “But citizens need to be aware that any contact information provided becomes part of the public record and under the Washington State Public Records Act is available to anyone making a request.”
Once the report is completed, the city will contact the owner or tenant and request that they voluntarily fix the problem. They usually have 10 days to address it, unless it’s something major that can’t reasonably be taken care of in that timeframe. The penalty for being late — $100/day.
“The challenge comes when people don’t care about the fine and choose to ignore it,” Hope continued. “The city can then take action, but it’s a legal process that needs to go through the courts and can take a year or more. The law provides lots of protections for property owners, so it can get very long and complex.”
During this time, fines will accumulate and additional inspections may be conducted. This can be frustrating for neighbors, because while the legal process plays out the house will sit there and it can appear that nothing is being done. But it doesn’t mean nothing is happening.
“Bottom line is that if the owner decides not to cooperate, the legal process can take a very long time,” she concluded.
One particularly challenging example has been that of a home in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood. Neighbors complained about it for years, filing numerous reports.
According to Hope, the city followed up on these, contacting and informing the owner about what needed to be done. The owner, who was occupying the residence at the time, would perform some clean-up but had difficulty following through in subsequent months, and the situation would again deteriorate.
“Some months back the owner moved out. We’re not sure why, possibly health reasons, but as a result the property then became part of an estate settlement,” explained Hope. “The house has been officially vacant for some time, and has been signed ‘No Trespassing.’ This means anyone in the house is there illegally, and citizens observing this should immediately report it to the police.”
With the owner not on the scene, the mess got worse fast, with increasingly large amounts of debris piling up and stacked next to the house. Earlier this year, the house caught fire and was extensively damaged. The cause was determined to be a generator placed in a woodpile (See My Edmonds News coverage here.)
“This is the most egregious example of neglect that we’ve encountered,” said Hope. “We went through the process of informing the owner and assessing fines, but to no avail. Ultimately we filed with the court to allow the city to go in and clean it up, and just this past weekend were granted permission to do this. We are currently selecting a clean-up company to do this work, and look forward to beginning in about a week.”
According to Hope, the cost of the cleanup will not be borne by the city, but rather will be charged to the property and paid off by the property owners.
— By Larry Vogel