How do unrepaired, unsound structures get dealt with?

Eric

Administrator
Staff member
Apr 16, 2023
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I was curious about situations where a homeowner has an old, dilapidated structure (e.g., a compromised garage) on their property, which represents a clear safety hazard to themselves, adjacent homeowners, and/or passersby. Oftentimes, these homeowners cannot afford to repair the structure and structure just sits there, only continuing to slide further into disrepair.

I reached out to several municipalities to ask how they typically handle such situations. Here are the responses I received:

Brown County, IN - Building Department (1/17/24):

If accessory structure is old & structurally compromised either plans of repair by licensed Architect or Engineer or structure torn down & rebuilt. No other alternative other than possible approval of repairs as shown by plans by licensed Contractor. Older structures have been left to fall into disrepair, if this happens liability is with the property owner. If complaints are filed with our office the owner may be required to tear down structure at owners cost.

Charlotte County, FL - Community Development Department (3/18/24):

We have many, many properties in this state. If you would like to file a complaint I will need your full name and address as the complainant and the address of the violation before we can start a code case. We are working diligently to address and focus our efforts on the most egregious violations while allowing those affected by the storm ample time to deal with insurance, hire contractors and obtain permits.

Chesapeake, VA - Permits Division (1/9/24):

Code Enforcement has a list of resources that the homeowner could try. If those resources are not able to assist the homeowner, then the City will hire a company to demo the structure and then put that bill onto the homeowners taxes.

Huntsville, AL - Inspection Office (1/8/24):

Community Development is a department within the City, that deals with blighted properties. Their responsibility is to, through notices and citations, require property owners to maintain their properties. Through their processes, a structure can be mitigated, and assessed back to the owner in the form of liens against the property.

Marysville, WA - Community Development Department (3/18/24):

This would require a code enforcement case. Once a complaint has been filed, we will perform a site visit and the owner may have to hire an Engineer to assess the structure. If the structure is deemed structurally sound, the building would need to be boarded up so nobody can access it. If during the inspection the structure is leaning and obviously a life safety hazard, we will require the structure to be demolished. A demo permit would be required.

Missoula, MT - Development Services Division (1/4/24):

In a case where a structure was unsound, someone would need to file a complaint and our Code Compliance Department would come for an inspection and inform the owner of restrictions on use or requirements.

Savannah, GA - Development Services Department (1/9/24):

Anything that is structurally unsound and in danger of failure will also need to be brought to code. For structures that go in disrepair and are abandoned, we will require you to secure the structure so nobody can enter until repairs are made to make the structure safe again. If it is a danger to others, say the house is in danger of collapsing on the sidewalk, we will order immediate repair or demolition.

Victoria, TX - Development Services Department (3/18/24):

We see this often.

We generally work with a homeowner if a structure is in dilapidation and they are occupying it. We make contact with the homeowner in hopes to get voluntary repairs made. if the homeowner cannot afford to make the repairs we also offer options for assistance if they qualify. In cases where a portion of the home is dilapidated to a point of dangerous and must be removed we can also hire contractors through a building standards commission process to do the work and we pay the cost. In doing so, the later process requires that we place the cost of work to a lien on the property until the bill is paid for.
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Thanks for the info. I always find it interesting to see how different localities handle the issue. In my city, the health department would likely get to condemn the structure if it was too far gone. Then the owner would be required to either bring it up to code, or to apply for a demoing permit to tear it down.
 
What I wasn't aware of, and was heartening to hear, was the fact that building departments sometimes have options to work with property owners and provide assistance with repairs. For example, Victoria, TX's building department said that "if the homeowner cannot afford to make the repairs we also offer options for assistance if they qualify." It's great that some building departments have tools to start code enforcement cases off collaboratively, by working with property owners and offering them resources, before imposing requirements and restrictions.

I was also unaware that building departments sometimes take matters into their own hands and hire contractors to make the necessary repairs. It's understandable that building departments sometimes need to undertake repairs unilaterally and impose costs on property owners in terms of liens/tax assessments, but those sorts of measures really should be a last resort.
 
It's interesting that many of them spring from a complaint. I'd say most officials loathe having to condemn properties, especially if someone is using it or can't afford to get it up to code. It's nice to know that some departments attempt to help the owners. I'm glad you shared that, Eric. It just goes to show that these officials aren't the enemy. They're just doing their job and are doing the best they can to keep everyone safe.
 
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