City finds condemnations slow but effective
In the latest in a series of such actions, the De Soto City Council will consider condemnation of two downtown houses at its Thursday meeting.
The houses are two of three owned by an elderly woman living in Missouri and which were found to be unsafe by city building inspector Larry Baxter. In that, they are representative of other condemnations that began when Mayor Dave Anderson took office three years ago.
Anderson said the condemnations weren't the product of a goal but rather the result of a meeting with Baxter early in his tenure.
"He wanted to know how we were going to operate," Anderson said. "I said if we have laws, enforce them. All I did was give permission."
The goal wasn't for the city to condemn and raze houses but rather to make property owners accountable, Anderson said.
In the past three years, the city has been forced to raze only one home. The city put a lien on the property against that expense. All the other homes Baxter judged unsafe have either been rehabilitated or torn down at their owners' expense.
As the process has unfolded, city staffers have learned many of the properties were owned by seniors or heirs living out of town. City Attorney Patrick Reavey said that greatly slowed the condemnation process as he attempted to notify property owners as required by Kansas statute.
"The biggest problem we have is finding good addresses for absentee owners," he said. "As long as we get notice to property owners, I'm confident we can move ahead."
Courts were interested the proper process was followed, Reavey said. That starts with a report by the city codes officer or Council that the structure was unsafe or Notification was then given of a public hearing on the finding. If based on that hearing the home is found unsafe, the Council must give the property owner "reasonable time" to make the structure safe and secure.
"Reasonable time is not defined," Reavey said. "We usually give them two or three months. Kansas case law says two weeks are not enough."
Again, statute didn't require Baxter's punch list of concerns be fixed but rather that progress was being made. The Council had shown a willingness to work with property owners making an effort, often extending the deadline to those property owners Baxter said were making an effort.
The city apparently won't have to pay to raze three condemned homes. Anderson said local developer Nathan Harding told him he had a contract to purchase the three structures.dangerous.