EMINENT DOMAIN? JUST TAKE THE HOUSE FROM THE BANK, THROUGH PROCESS OF LAW. PROBLEM SOLVED..
Last updated: Sat. Mar. 14, 2015 - 10:11 am EDT
Some demolitions make sense, but this one would be a sin of bank's omission
Salvageable house may come down even though city, landlord would like to save it
But there are exceptions — homes slated for demolition that could and should be saved if not for a glitch in the system and the apparently illogical indifference of their owners. Landlord Bob Wyss and Code Enforcement Director Cindy Joyner hope to save at least one of them now, and possibly more in the future.
“This would be a serious sin (to tear down). It would be an excellent house for a young couple with three or four kids,” Wyss said as he stood outside the long-vacant four-bedroom home at 1227 Kinsmoor Ave. — an attractive house but for a few superficial issues and the partially collapsed foundation that caused the city to order its demolition late last year.
Wyss, a responsible landlord who owns 11 rental properties, estimates the structural problems would cost less than $10,000 to correct and places the total renovation bill at no more than $35,000 — an expense more than justified by the $75,000 he believes it could bring on the open market.
Wyss would like to buy it, and Joyner doesn't really want to spend the $9,000 or so demolition would cost. But unless something changes, the house may come down within 30 days because of factors over which neither has control.
The problem, both say, is ownership. Wyss said the bank, which owns the foreclosed property that has been vacant since a least 2008, has shown no interest in selling. Joyner, meanwhile, said it has also shown no interest in making the ordered repairs even though it has continued to pay taxes and paid $4,000 in fines imposed by her office.
And because the taxes are current, Allen County cannot include the house in its annual sale of delinquent properties, where Wyss or someone else could buy it or the county's Community Development Corp. could claim and sell it to someone willing to put the house to productive use. In 2013, the CDC sold 94 vacant lots and 42 properties with structures, generating $222,000 for the county's coffers.
And so there it sits — an abandoned and potentially dangerous eyesore in the middle of a block boasting some well-maintained homes and others that could also use some work. In other words, the neighborhood could go either way, and the inactivity regarding this house is pushing it in the wrong direction.
“We've had no communication (with Bank of America),” said Joyner, who noted that national banks, unlike their local counterparts, are less likely to respond to orders to repair foreclosed home. “It's frustrating for me, and for the neighborhood.” And although demolition of salvageable properties is relatively rare, it does happen, she conceded.
And the house does appear salvageable — even potentially desirable. Although some of the plumbing has been stripped by vandals, the house still boasts original woodwork, new appliances and fixtures and other features prized by people who love older homes. And yet, when Wyss calls the bank to ask about its availability, he gets nowhere. Joyner, meanwhile, said representatives have told her the bank no longer controls the property, even though it remains the owner of record, according to county Treasurer Sue Orth.
“(Joyner's) been gracious (in delaying demolition). She has a responsibility (to protect the public from unsafe buildings),” said Wyss, who asked City Council to look into the matter this week and plans to do so again.
But property owners have a responsibility too, and the owner of the Kinsmoor house — whoever it is — is not meeting its obligation to its neighbors and the city.
Joyner doesn't want the authority to assume ownership in such cases, but clearly she needs more tools than are currently available. The pending cost of demolition and the city's fines, clearly, have not been large enough to make repairs or a sale financially preferable to indifference. Council should explore increasing the penalties, and Joyner said a federal law may be needed to compel national banks to properly maintain properties under foreclosure.
And even then, it may be too late for a potentially fine house that could make somebody a lovely home. And that really would be a sin.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.