12/26/05 — 76 properties on 'to condemn' list

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76 properties on 'to condemn' list

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 26, 2005 1:53 PM

Two boxes sit in the Goldsboro Inspections Department, stacked high with more than 60 case files on houses and other buildings slated for official condemnation by the city. By the end of February, that number should rise above 130, officials said.

Goldsboro City Council voted to condemn two dwellings at its most recent meeting, continuing its mission to clean up the city, officials said.

But those are just two of the many hearings that have to be scheduled to turn citations into condemnation and demolition orders. The cost of demolition if the property owner does not pay the bill and the time required to get a condemnation order are what keeps these properties from getting official sanctions, city officials say.

The two most recently condemned homes, located at 214 Oak St. and 502 Slocumb St., have been slated for condemnation and demolition by the Inspections Department for some time as a result of failing to meet minimum housing standards set by the state.

It all starts with some rotten wood siding -- or maybe a few broken windows without screens, a major leak or a faulty heater.

Goldsboro's Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra said the condemnation process usually begins with a complaint.

On the road to condemnation, there are numerous benchmarks. A violation of minimum housing code is the first sign of trouble, one that can ultimately lead to hefty repair bills for property owners -- even demolition.

"If we receive a complaint, we then put that house under the minimum housing code," Cianfarra said. "When we first look at the dwelling, if it does not meet minimum housing standards, the property owner gets a letter listing the violations."

The letter marks the beginning of a three-phase process that ends in condemnation and potential demolition, and notifies the property owner of a hearing, during which he and the inspector can talk in detail about necessary repairs and projected cost.

"During this time, the property owner can come in for their hearing, and we will give them a detailed list of problems," Cianfarra said. "If they don't show, the next phase begins."

Cianfarra said Tuesday 17 dwellings are currently in phase one. Of those cases, only two properties are under repair.

If the phase one letter is ignored and the property owner fails to attend the hearing and/or apply for a repair permit, phase two kicks in. Phase two also involves a letter and hearing.

Currently, 57 dwellings have entered the second phase. Of those cases, only four property owners have applied for repair permits.

Cianfarra said each of the three phases is really just a time period in which property owners can meet with inspectors and receive detailed information regarding specific problems and costs associated with bringing the dwelling up to code.

The third phase marks the final attempt by the city to urge property owners to make necessary repairs. At the end of this time period, it takes about 15 working days before the building is brought to council for condemnation.

"We can go ahead and condemn the building after Phase Three," he said. "And then I will go to the City Council and ask for a demolition order."

Cianfarra said Tuesday that 72 dwellings are currently in Phase Three, on the cusp of condemnation and demolition. Less than 33 percent of these properties are under repair.

After condemnation is ordered, a letter is sent to the property owner, informing him that he has 30 days to remove all personal property from the building.

Cianfarra said the council generally reviews between four and eight cases per month, leaving dozens more on hold. The road to demolition is a lengthy process, he said. Once a property enters first phase, it can take up to 335 days until it is leveled by the city.

Earlier this month, Mayor Al King said councilmen have an unspoken agreement to grant extensions to property owners after Phase Three if they commit to repairing the property.

This has happened on numerous occasions, he said, including a recent decision to grant an extension to the owners of a condemned apartment complex at 300 Randall Lane.

Cianfarra added when a building is condemned and then given an extension, the property owners must apply for a repair order with the city before beginning the work. Once they have completed the necessary repairs, an inspection is conducted to ensure the building has been brought up to code. If it has, the matter is closed.

Cianfarra said residents should feel free to call the inspections department if they notice neighborhood buildings or homes in violation of minimum housing guidelines.

However, he said the cases would be prioritized and people should not expect a condemnation and demolition the day after they call. Residents can expect, however, to see continued action from the inspections staff.

"We would generally be more concerned with people living without heat than with some broken windows," he said. "But eventually, we will get to all of them,"

The North Carolina Minimum Housing Code is available online at www.ncbia.org.