Brookings council focuses on abandoned properties

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 04, 2014 10:06 am

The Brookings City Council will debate how to address vacant, unkempt properties that have been abandoned or foreclosed upon throughout town.

The work session is slated for 4 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

The council could consider citing property owners — and in worst case scenarios, placing liens against the property — under its city code regarding public nuisances. Those are defined as “conditions that promote blight, deterioration, unsightliness, plundering, fire hazard, hazards to health or safety of minors, disruption of the public peace, harborage for rodents, insects and vermin and circumstances generally injurious or detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare.

Even more specifically, it could include accumulations of debris, premises that smell or are unsanitary, unsightly junk — including machinery, appliances and vehicles that are discarded or abandoned — and items that could “mar the appearance … detract from the cleanliness or safety of the property,” the ordinance reads.

New laws at the state level require financial institutions to notify municipalities when a property goes into foreclosure, and Brookings has yet to establish a system to log their information.

“We’re going to need to set up a system with the title company to determine who the owners are,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “We’ve had a couple call to ask about our procedures.”

The municipal code, Milliman wrote in a report to council, does not address such things as mown lawns or raked leaves, and is usually a complaint-driven issue.

“The city staff does not patrol the city to identify nuisances,” Milliman said. “The (code) does not contain general property maintenance regulations. There is no requirement that a lawn be maintained or weeds be abated, leaves be raked and cleared or landscaping maintained.”

But the state last year enacted House Bill 2662, that provides local government the authority to address issues as “neglect.” That is defined as excessive foliage growth that diminishes the values of adjacent property, trespassers that are attracted to the land — even mosquito larva in standing water.

The House bill also allows cost recovery and allows municipalities to post a sign with the owner’s name and contact information. That, however, can prove difficult to obtain — and many foreclosed homes can be owned by out-of-area banks.

“With foreclosures, our biggest ongoing problem has been getting a responsible party to respond,” Milliman said. “In one instance, there is a home that’s been abandoned for almost three years and the title is in abatement.”

The duty of doing the work and recovering the cost of the work could fall to the city. Recovery could also come in the form of a lien against the property.

“We don’t see it as a big problem,” Milliman said of complaints. “We receive calls now and then. There are some that have been in foreclosure for quite a while that begin to look unsightly. It’s not like it’s overwhelming number.”