To remove blighted houses, Temple Terrace seeks to tighten code

TEMPLE TERRACE — Part of the outside wall has collapsed from dry rot, providing an unobstructed view inside the home in the 100 block of Druid Hills Road.

"The worst part has got to be out back at the pool,'' said Barry Tormey, who lives next door. "It's nasty back there. All the weeds are overgrown.''

In another Temple Terrace neighborhood, the two-story home in the 300 block of Belle View Avenue has mold growing on the front walls. A shredded blue tarp, no doubt a once-temporary fix for a leak, drapes a section of roof. Fallen vertical blinds give the windows a gap-toothed look.

"We're not too thrilled,'' next-door neighbor Serena Lewis said. "It does have, especially when it rains, it has a very bad odor, like a sewage kind of smell, like rotten eggs, kind of. And the pool in the back is full of nasty green water, which brings a lot of mosquitoes.''

These are two of 19 homes that the city wants repaired or condemned. Frustrated over delays in ridding the neighborhoods of blighted homes, the City Council recently asked Joe Gross, the city's code compliance director, to look into ways of expediting the condemnation process and report back. Council members also want to make negligent owners, including banks that have foreclosed on homes, more accountable for their upkeep.

Gross and City Manager Gerald Seeber plan to reveal a proposed revised code to the Council next week. Seeber said the code will be more specific and will be updated to reflect changes in case law governing demolition of uninhabitable homes. But he noted that the city will always have to move cautiously in such cases, in order to make sure that all owners and lienholders have been identified and notified. They aren't always recorded properly, he added, and the city would be liable if it destroyed a house and an overlooked owner turned up, demanding reimbursement.

Most of the distressed homes are the subject of protracted foreclosures, Gross said. Perhaps because of the glut of foreclosures, some mortgage holders aren't taking care of the properties and they steadily deteriorate over time, bringing down the value of surrounding homes.

"All these properties have extensive fines,'' Gross said.

But not all of them warrant demolition. Neighbors appeared before the City Council recently to urge the removal of the house in the 7600 block of River Ridge Drive, which they said smells of mold and has rats in the roof. City inspectors got permission from the owner, who is serving a jail term in Hillsborough County, to inspect the house, and found that it was not sufficiently damaged to be condemned. Fire Chief Keith Chapman, whose department oversees the condemnation and removal of blighted homes, said someone has been doing repair work in the house.

It appears that the home on Druid Hills Road, which the city does want to remove, will continue to stand and rot. The owner of record is an estate, it still has an outstanding loan and the city can't reach anyone connected to the estate.

"The rumor has it that whoever is the beneficiary isn't interested in the property,'' Chapman said. Even if the red tape finally breaks on these homes, the city has to find the money to take them down. It costs about $9,000 to $10,000 to demolish a house and haul away the debris, Chapman said. The city can put liens on property, but that's no guarantee it will get reimbursed.

"At $9,000 or $10,000 a pop, it can get expensive.''

Gross and Seeber have also reworked the proposed code to address less severe but unsightly problems in neighborhoods. Seeber said they tried to eliminate loopholes.

"We're going to try to strengthen our code so that we don't get beat, so to speak, in a hearing because we don't have the proper code language.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

To remove blighted houses, Temple Terrace seeks to tighten code 10/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 2:11pm]

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