Get tough on owners of dilapidated homes

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We generally loathe the idea of government at any level sticking its bureaucratic nose into people’s lives, but will gladly support any effort from county government to take action against the owners of abandoned, dilapidated homes.
A perfect example is the home on Hammond Road that is the subject of an article on page A1. It has been abandoned for years, has bags of trash falling out of its broken front windows, has floors and ceilings that are caving in, and is an eyesore of the first order.
Yet it took the nearly yearlong complaints of a woman next door to finally get legal action taken against the home’s owners.
Some of the blame rests squarely on our public officials who certainly were made aware of the problem via the woman’s complaints or by simply driving by. Yet until Friday, no one in authority had so much as contacted the home’s owners (who apparently live right down the road) and told them to clean it up — or else.
But the lion’s share of the blame rests in the fact that Anderson County is largely hamstrung by its lack of local ordinances, which makes forcing owners to maintain their property problematic at best, nearly impossible at worst.
At a minimum, the local health department should have taken action months ago, if for no other reason than the trash-filled house is clearly a health hazard for its neighbors. The woman who complained waged war for years against rodent infestations brought on by living next door to what amounts to a trash dump.
She says she contacted the health department numerous times, and that an employee actually visited the home nearly a year ago but to date hasn’t done a thing.
Instead, it took the county’s fire chief to finally declare it a fire hazard and order it torn down.
With dozens of homes joining this one in abandonment each year due to foreclosure, it’s time to address this problem before it gets even further out of control.
That’s where county government comes in, and thankfully the judge-executive’s office appears adequately staffed — now — to handle this problem.
Doug Ingram, the county’s new code enforcement officer (among other duties) has years of experience in dealing with these types of problems. But all of his expertise means nothing unless the fiscal court is willing to provide the chest full of tools he needs.
Doing so will require the fiscal court to take a serious look at the ordinances that address dangerous or dilapidated structures. If they’re vague, make them clear. If they’re toothless, give them teeth. If they’re outdated, update them, then give Ingram the court’s blessing and let him do what needs to be done.
No, this won’t be easy. If the fiscal court gets serious about this, it will be required at times to place the heel of its sizeable legal boot squarely on the toes of those accustomed to getting their own way based on who they are or know.
But if the past several months are any indication, the days of special treatment for those who really aren’t so special are over, and it’s about stinkin’ time.
The bottom line is that the fiscal court owes it to those who maintain their property to ensure those who refuse to do the same can’t get away with it anymore.
Or pay a hefty price.