CITY OF The Dalles is foreclosing on properties with unpaid code enforcement liens, including a $45,000 tab to demolish this burned-out residence. Contributed photo
The City of The Dalles is in the process of foreclosing on 10 properties for unpaid liens, including the more than $45,000 cost of demolishing a burned-out structure at 600 East 12th Street.
“Foreclosure is a pretty drastic remedy and we don’t do it if there is any other way to get the nuisance taken care of,” said Gene Parker, city attorney.
He said once the local title company has completed a search to determine if there are any other outstanding liens against the properties, an auction date will be scheduled. The public will be notified about the sales on the steps of city hall, which are likely to take place in March.
If all 10 of the homes end up being sold, Parker said a record will be set. However, he said past experience has shown that the majority of property owners end up paying off their debt before that happens.
In the early 1990s, he said the city was in the same position with about 50 properties on the east side of town where the owners had not paid the assessment levied by a Local Improvement District for sewer and water upgrades. By the end of the foreclosure process, the city auctioned off only three of these homes.
In each case where a property is being foreclosed on, Parker said numerous attempts have been made to work with the landowner to address safety problems or clean up abandoned vehicles, old furniture, used tires, mattresses and other junk.
In the situation of the house destroyed by fire on 12th Street, Parker said the owner was cooperative but did not have the funds to take down the derelict structure himself.
In cases like that, the city hires professionals to do the work and then bills the landowner. If that bill remains unpaid, a lien is attached to the property and eventually the foreclosure process is initiated so the city can recoup the funds it has expended.
Parker said nuisance abatement is a complaint-driven process. He said once a citizen files a grievance with Codes Enforcement Officer Nikki Lesich, she visits the neighborhood to take a look at the situation. If she finds a problem, multiple attempts are made to develop a plan and timeline with the owner to address the situation.
“Her goal is to work with people and give them time to clean things up,” said Parker.
He said some owners do not live in the residence or even in town so letters outlining the violation of the city’s nuisance code are sent to their address of record.
One of the vacant lots slated to be sold at the March auction belongs to an out-of-town owner and is located on East Eighth Street near Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue and other buildings. During the summer months, the grass grows high enough on that land to create a fire danger and Parker said the city has cleaned up the lot three times in just as many years, racking up a bill of $2,501.37 for that work. He said that will be the minimum price asked for the property if it ends up at auction but, due to the low cost of the bill, he anticipates the owner might find a way to reimburse taxpayers for the cleanup costs.
When a property with a lien has already been repossessed by a bank for non-payment of a mortgage, Parker said the financial institution will usually clean up the site to clear the title.
Sometimes there are back taxes owing on a piece of land headed to foreclosure and, if the county already has a lien on the property, Parker said the city must settle that bill to proceed with the sale.
Nolan Young, city manager, makes the final decision about where proceeds from an auction should be banked. Sometimes this capital is put into the general fund, which covers most operating costs, or the special assessments fund, which provides the capital for property cleanup.
“Foreclosure is an extensive process and our goal is to recover taxpayer money spent on nuisance abatement and get these properties back on the private tax rolls,” said Parker.
Under the city’s nuisance code, the grass on a property is considered a problem when it reaches 12 inches in height.
Puncture vine is a continuing problem in the city and last year Lesich sent out 500 letters to landowners who were not taking care of this nuisance. The spiky weed causes pain for pedestrians who step on it and can flatten a bicycle tire.
Shrubs that extend into sidewalks and roadway easements must be dealt with to protect pedestrian and motorist safety. For that same reason, tree branches must be trimmed 14 feet above a street and 9 feet above a sidewalk.