Inquirer: Vacant lot has cost city more to maintain than it's worth

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 6, 2013 

This vacant lot on Singer Drive has cost the city more to maintain that it's worth to sell.

MIKE OWEN — mowen@ledger-enquirer.com

Dead men don't tell tales and dead men don't wear plaid, they say, but in Muscogee County, they own property.

And not surprisingly, they don't take good care of it. You can't mow grass when you're on the wrong side of it.

For the second week in a row, I've Inquired upon property whose owner has died. The owner of the 15th Avenue house we looked into last week died in 1992, and the person who owns the property I'm about to tell you about died in 2002.

Apparently, if a property owner dies and his or her will is never probated, or maybe they died intestate, the city doesn't know unless the family notifies it.

So it makes one wonder how many dead people in Columbus own land aside from that in which they reside. Ah, that's a story for another day.

An Exasperated Reader on Singer Drive, a few blocks off Fort Benning Road, is tired of the vacant lot next to her house being so overgrown. So I went out and looked and, as you can see, she wasn't exaggerating.

Well, guess who else is tired of the lot being overgrown? The Columbus Consolidated Government.

I talked to Special Enforcement Officer Brandt Poole, who gave me the background on the property, which he said is very much on the radar in his department.

First, the lot is vacant because the city condemned the house and tore it down a long time ago. Since then, he said the city has contracted to have the grass cut "probably about 30 times," or about two or three times a year.

Y'all know the routine. The city (that's you, Joe and Jane Taxpayer) pays anywhere from $80 to $200, depending on the size of the yard, then slaps a lien on the property so the city can recoup its money when the property is sold.

Problem is, it's unlikely the property will ever get sold. Why, you ask?

The property is appraised for $4,900, and the city would want to get back taxes and liens satisfied by the new owner. Let's do a little speculative math. The taxes on the property are only about $82 a year, but 11 years of that comes to nearly $900. If the city has paid to have the grass cut 30 times, and we apply the median cost of $140, that comes to $4,200, which would put the price of buying it higher than its appraised value.

And every time the city cuts the grass, the lot just gets that much more expensive.

Anybody down at city hall have any ideas to stop the spiral?

Update

Speaking of the property we wrote about last week, Poole said that's another house with which his department is very familiar.

The house, at the corner of Springer Avenue and 15th Avenue, is trashier than Miley Cyrus (and probably has a similar level of musical talent).

Poole said in the last 10 years or so, Special Enforcement officers have responded to more than 30 complaints about the property. A few times, they've been able to compel the renters to clean up their act, but they're soon back to their trashy ways, he said.

The officers are limited as to how much they can do. If a property is occupied, they can't just come on the property and clean it up (or contract someone to do it). They can only do that if the property is vacant and the owner lives elsewhere, or at Park Hill, apparently.

But otherwise, all they can do is give the residents a citation to report to Environmental Court, then it's up to the judge.

The last time a resident from the 15th Avenue house was in that court, he got 10 days probation, Poole said.

But there's good news. When officers went to the house last week, they found the house occupied by new tenants, who said they would clean up the property.

We will see.

More Ledger Inquirer:

Inquirer: Lakebottom yard looks like 'Third World country'

Inquirer: Apartment house in disrepair may land owner in court

Inquirer: Heavy rains put city behind on chores

Seen something that needs attention? Contact me at 706-571-8570 or mowen@ledger-enquirer.com.

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