Cleaning up neighborhood eyesores: It can take a long time

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    This Lake Ballinger neighborhood house was boarded up following a fire earlier this summer. (My Edmonds News file photo)

    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.”

    Firefighters at work at the home that caught fire last summer.

    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

    12 COMMENTS

    1. Great information, thanks, Larry for the follow-up. I’m sure the neighbors will be pleased to see an end to this eyesore not to mention the rats and other critters that have love to making their home in such a cozy environment!

      John Mcallen, I think you missed the point of the article.

      • Yes I did read the article and understand the point. However, the underlying principle behind it concerns me. Encouraging people to report their neighbors if they “think” someone is violating a code seems to start down a bad path especially when those codes could easily change to cover more supposed infractions. Usually people who want this type of control over their neighbors will live in an neighborhood with an HOA.

        • Maybe you should come to my neighborhood and see this house. Then ask yourself would you like to live nextdoor.
          We are asking for people to be good neighbors and if they are unwilling then we ask the city to step in.

          • T. S. Eliot wrote that “We tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” When Thea Miklasiewicz wrote her letter, above, she marshaled some facts and presented them in order to clarify and contribute to the discussion. But somehow “Haha oh dear” does very little other than incite emotion. Don’t you find that insulting someone is seldom a good way to convince anyone of the value of what one has to say? I believe that in a small community like Edmonds we do much better to keep things a civil and courteous as possible. It’s that kind of place.

          • Nathaniel, Yes I do think “haha oh dear” is an appropriate response. With the above example it’s easy to think the premise behind reporting neighbor violations makes sense. It’s a big obvious case to hide the subtle danger. However, as you probably well know, it never ends with such an obvious case as presented above. Who makes these codes? Are they elected? Are they your neighbor? What else can be added to the codes and do we, as citizens, get input?This gives power to your neighbors to control what you do on your property. If you can’t see where this goes down the road then “haha oh dear” is all that can be said. It’s a slippery slope.

    2. Wait I know of a specific case of code violation, (even read the response from Edmonds code violation board) person was in the wrong. Were given 2 extension dates to fix problem. They were never fined $100 a day, and did not fix the problem. They have plenty of finances to fix. To date nothing was changed. There was little to no follow up. Only on the person who originally filed.

    3. Personally, I really appreciate this information! I live right next door to the property. All sort of random people are going through the fenced off area to pick through scraps of metal. Trash is left on the property at all hours. The rats are invading my and my neighbor’s homes. The only solution is to have this property leveled and sold to a person who can do something good with it. We are living next door to a very toxic property.

    4. Many “facts” of this article are not correct. The house actually was given to two of three of the original owner’s adult children. Even though it is still in the deceased father’s name. On the day of the fire, the daughter’s husband was the person who talked to the officials. I talked to the daughter and her husband the day before the fire. The son comes and goes a lot, but in conversation with the daughter and her husband, the son and his wife had a dispute with one of their many renters. Because of their reputation with Edmond’s police, the son and wife disappeared for a week. They did come back and started to clear up some of the rubble. The renter who had the dispute with them came back. Police were called and I haven’t seen any of them since. I talked to them a lot and never got the news they had health problems. They were living there right up until the fire broke out. It was the father who died, but that was three years ago.

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