Susie Hamilton and her brother Greg will likely have until the end of February to tear down what’s left of their deceased-father’s Harbor house that burned in an Oct. 15 fire and has since become home to squatters and rats.
The Curry County Board of Commissioners have been working on the problem since neighbors complained the property had become a nuisance.
Attorney John Huttl said in a quasi-judicial hearing Wednesday that the problem — including piles of trash, free-flowing water and garbage littered throughout — has even become worse since he last visited the property on Hamilton Lane. Clothing hangs on lines near the garage, which is primarily intact. Food lays on the ground. A camp stove is set up in the driveway. Beds are packed in a back room. Trash and clothing and other personal belongings are scattered throughout.
“Half of the house has no roof,” Huttl told commissioners. “People have put a ladder up to the attic and a chair up there. There are multiple 5-gallon buckets of human feces — we have photos of that. The board of commissioners has to determine if this constitutes a nuisance.”
The house is owned by the estate of the Hamilton’s deceased father. It’s taken this long to get to this point because the county had to enact a nuisance property ordinance, inspect the property — which took a search warrant — notify the owners that it needed to be cleaned up, board up and placard the house, hear from the neighbors in a public meeting and then hold the nuisance hearing, Huttl explained. The county also went to great lengths to find Susie Hamilton’s brother in Washington.
Complicating it is that the county does not have a code enforcement officer.
All the while, neighbors complained the situation has become worse.
Neighbor Finley Cheshire said the property has been a public nuisance “ever since Susie Hamilton took up residence two years ago. It started the day she arrived and continues to this day.”
He said he’s even found buckets of feces by his oceanfront property that were being dumped over the edge into the ocean, and that his wife spotted a man at the Hamilton house cooking drugs over a small tin in preparation of shooting up.
Determining the property is a nuisance wasn’t difficult; even Susie Hamilton, who spoke to the board via phone, said she wants to clear the property, sell it and move.
Getting from where they are today to Hamilton selling and moving is what commissioners had to decide.
Fining people won’t work, especially the 10 “Does” — unknown people — named in the complaint who periodically wander through or live at the property, Huttl said. Some are only seen at night, neighbors can’t identify them and just Monday, a van parked in the driveway. A tarp is secured to the top as if it leaks — and also as if the people are there to stay, Huttl said.
Boarding up or fencing the property won’t work either, the parties all agreed, because no one, including the county, has the funds to do so, and transients and kids would merely see it as an enticement to try to get in.
“Unless you put up a 10-foot fence with razor wire, you’re not going to keep people out,” said Sheriff John Ward when Huttl questioned him. “They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”
A county building official testified that the house — a hulk of charred wood with a freestanding chimney — “needs to come down” and that the conditions in the garage are not a lot safer.
“It’s very old, it’s weathered, there’s siding missing, a lot of holes in the walls,” he said of the garage. “The condition of the garage is adding to the nuisance. It’s grown and it’s just going to get worse.”
Harbor Fire and Rescue Chief John Brazil noted the water company keeps turning off water to the house, but it “somehow” keeps getting turned back on. Cheshire also noted that over a one-month period last year, his water bill indicated he’d used 11,500 gallons of water when he typically only uses 500.
Susie Hamilton said she has a crew of friends willing to raze the house and clean up the property — but also said she doesn’t have the money to do so. All the material must be hauled to the dump because it is too dangerous to be burned and there are too many state regulations by which to abide for a training burn, Brazil said.
“Susie said she has friends who are going to have a work party,” Cheshire said. “That ain’t going to happen — ever. Miss Hamilton is incapable of cleaning up that property.”
Commissioners will decide how to proceed at their next meeting, Feb. 7.
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .