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Green grows the eyesore

Grass grows waist-high around a house on Coryville Road.

Residents struggle with plight of abandoned property

 

Dusti Gorby had a visitor recently and not a welcome one. A rat chewed through the living room floor in her home, carpet and all.

The rat, it seems, lives next door in an abandoned house that has sat empty for years when former tenants walked off and the house fell under the control of a Texas mortgage company.

Gorby, who lives on County Road 411, Proctorville, has a lot in common with Catherine Chatfield, who lives on Coryville Road just outside of Ironton, nearly the other end of the county. Chatfield, too, has neighbors who walked away years ago and left a house now the weeds, rats and snakes have taken up residence on their property.

Some neighbors deal with such scenarios all year long but this time of year when mosquitoes congregate in pools of standing water and other insects migrate from abandoned homes to the ones next door, a bad situation almost becomes unbearable.

 

The critters and the weeds

In an email Gorby wrote “I’m guessing around 7 or 8 years ago there were two men who lived in the house next door to me. Their house was foreclosed on so all this time it’s been sitting empty. “The roof has caved in, the porch has fallen down, the weeds have overtaken the yard and now it’s a weekly battle of (dealing with) weeds and poison ivy to keep it out of my yard,

“The sad part is that yes, the front of the house is bad but the back yard is worse. There is a single wide trailer that the metal has been stripped off of, there is an out building full of trash bags, old tires, gas tanks and God only knows what else. The bugs are so bad you can’t go out and enjoy the yard, at any time while mowing you’re coated in mosquitoes. We had carpet laid in our living room and honestly had a rat chew threw our floor and new carpet and got in our house.”

Gorby is not alone in her distress. Residents of South Point recently attended a village council meeting to protest an apartment building in their neighborhood that is largely abandoned and falling apart. Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship recently estimated he had more than 20 structures in his city that have been abandoned and left to rot.

 

Who can make the change?

While cities and villages can make their own laws regarding nuisance properties, Ohio law states health departments and fire departments and township trustees in unincorporated areas may condemn blighted structures. Before he left office, State Rep. Clyde Evans sponsored a bill that allows township trustees greater powers to handle nuisances such as Gorby’s and specifies how they can proceed with condemnation and demolition.

South Point Mayor Ron West has a list of the structures he wants to see demolished because they have been neglected and/or abandoned.

“I’m working with the CAO right now,” he said. We’re in the process of condemning a house. I think we’ve got 40 days left to go on a 60-day notice. We had one condemned last year on North Kenova Road. I’ve got one I’m getting ready to condemn. We’re trying our best. This is one of my pet projects.”

 

Help for Dusti

Rome Township Trustee Mark Bailey said he has been working on Gorby’s problem for a couple of years now and has had to wade through everything from red tape to apathy to get something done.

“I would love to get rid of it,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he has sent two nuisance letters by certified mail to the Texas mortgage company that owns the County Road 411 property next door to Gorby’s. Those letters were never answered.

Bailey said a year or so ago, when the Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Management District had a scrap tire collection event, he and others went to the blighted property and removed 200 scrap tires there.

Bailey said he would like to handle the matter by using the tax lien program through Lawrence County Treasurer Stephen Burcham’s office. Burcham’s plan would allow for the sale of abandoned properties on which taxes are owed (the cost is $1 for the tax lien). After a year the new owner has the right to tear down whatever dilapidated building is on the property and sell the land to recoup their money.

 

Help from the state?

Several months ago, Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship was at a meeting with the Ohio Attorney General in Columbus on another unrelated subject when he was asked if he intended to apply for any Move Ohio Forward monies. The grants were to tear down blighted homes and the state had $75 million it was making available to communities across the state to help with this. Blankenship was definitely interested and started immediately on his list.

Blankenship said the county as a whole may be in line for as much as $223,000. He and county commissioners will likely allow the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization to be the administrative agency for the grant and the money will be divided among the county’s areas.

Each dilapidated house would have to be put out for demolition bid. Blankenship said the recent average is $4,000-$5,000 per structure.

If the county gets the grant the money could be available later this year.

“This is a good thing for the city and the county. This money will allow us to do things we otherwise could not do,” Blankenship said.

He said the county and city have a good chance of getting a grant.

 

Law states what regs are:

“Sec. 505.87. (A) A board of township trustees may provide for the abatement, control, or removal of vegetation, garbage, refuse, and other debris from land in the township, if the board determines that the owner’s maintenance of that vegetation, garbage, refuse, and other debris constitutes a nuisance.

(B) At least seven days before providing for the abatement, control, or removal of any vegetation, garbage, refuse, or debris, the board of township trustees shall notify the owner of the land and any holders of liens of record upon the land that:

(1) The owner is ordered to abate, control, or remove the vegetation, garbage, refuse, or other debris, the owner’s maintenance of which has been determined by the board to be a nuisance;

(2) If that vegetation, garbage, refuse, or other debris is not abated, controlled, or removed, or if provision for its abatement, control, or removal is not made, within seven days, the board shall provide for the abatement, control, or removal, and any expenses incurred by the board in performing that task shall be entered upon the tax duplicate and become a lien upon the land from the date of entry.

The board shall send the notice to the owner of the land by certified mail if the owner is a resident of the township or is a nonresident whose address is known, and by certified mail to lienholders of record; alternatively, if the owner is a resident of the township or is a nonresident whose address is known, the board may give notice to the owner by causing any of its agents or employees to post the notice on the principal structure on the land and to photograph that posted notice with a camera capable of recording the date of the photograph on it. If the owner’s address is unknown and cannot reasonably be obtained, it is sufficient to publish the notice once in a newspaper of general circulation in the township. The owner of the land or holders of liens of record upon the land may enter into an agreement with the board of township trustees providing for either party to the agreement to perform the abatement, control, or removal before the time the board is required to provide for the abatement, control, or removal under division (C) of this section.

(C) If, within seven days after notice is given, the owner of the land fails to abate, control, or remove the vegetation, garbage, refuse, or other. debris, or no agreement for its abatement, control, or removal is entered into under division (B) of this section, the board of township trustees shall provide for the abatement, control, or removal and may employ the necessary labor, materials, and equipment to perform the task. All expenses incurred shall when approved by the board, shall be paid out of the township general fund from moneys not otherwise appropriated, except that if the expenses incurred exceed five hundred dollars, the board may borrow moneys from a financial institution to pay for the expenses in whole or in part.

(D) The board of township trustees shall make a written report to the county auditor of the board’s action under this section. The board shall include in the report a proper description of the premises and statement of all expenses incurred in providing for the abatement, control, or removal of any vegetation, garbage, refuse, or other debris; as provided in division (C) of this section, including the board’s charges for its services, the costs incurred in providing notice, any fees or Interest paid to borrow moneys, and the amount paid for the labor, materials, and equipment. The expenses incurred, when allowed, shall be entered upon the tax duplicate, are a lien upon the land from the date of the entry, end shall be collected as other taxes, and shall be returned to the township and placed in the township general fund.