What do raccoons, vandalism and caved roofs all have in common? They’re all some of the effects of abandoned homes.
Will Mikesell is a Logan resident who lives in between two abandoned homes both owned by Big Mountain Properties LLC off 100 South. Mikesell describes the neighborhood as a “great community” but said abandoned homes damage that by decreasing property values, among other impacts.
“The one that’s right behind us has really gotten deteriorated,” he said. “When we first moved in, they had black plastic over the roof because it caved in. The wind would blow at night and it would sound like firecrackers. The one that was down the street was condemned to black rot. That means he can’t use or rent it until he fixes it, which doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble.”
The property owner of the vacant houses on Mikesell’s block said he is currently in the process of fixing them up so he can put them on the market, but that process has been prolonged because of health issues. He’s spoken with the city about the properties as well.
“I want to make nice homes for people to live in,” he said.
The owner said he’s reluctant to rent the homes out after past poor experiences.
“I didn’t abandon them,” he said. “I just don’t want to rent them out again. I want to fix them up to sell them.”
In 2018, Logan passed Ordinance 18-06, which required owners to register vacant properties with the city and pay increasing annual fees for them. The city is then responsible for inspecting and monitoring vacant buildings and shall “promote substantial efforts to rehabilitate and develop such buildings when appropriate.”
Aaron Smith, Logan’s Neighborhood Development manager, said that there were currently 24 vacant properties on the registry. Unfortunately the list does not differentiate between residential, commercial or industrial, so it is unknown how many abandoned homes there are. Since the ordinance passed in 2018, 16 vacant properties have moved off the list and only one was added this year.
Smith said “most reasons are unknown,” when asked why properties get abandoned. Someone could have died, someone could plan on renovating a home, it could be too much to handle or the cost of removing it is too high.
According to Ordinance 18-06, properties that are vacant for one year are charged $100, two years are charged $200, and so forth. Owners are required to take care of the exterior of vacant structures, including landscaping and any broken windows or trim.
Mikesell said that on occasion he’s chased kids out of the abandoned homes on his block. He’s also called animal control to remove a pack of raccoons from the lot behind his home.
“The way we’re set up, your rights as a property owner, there’s really nothing in the books that lets them do a whole lot other than enforce the blight laws,” he said.
Logan Community Development Director Mike DeSimone said the registry was a “financial disincentive” to push owners into doing something with the vacant property. If a property becomes a hazard or a public health or nuisance issue, the city can step in and take care of it. Most of the properties on the list were added at the time of registry creation, but if a property is observed to be abandoned, a case will be opened and the owner will be investigated.
“The biggest issue is dealing with community blight,” he said.
Logan isn’t the only city in the valley dealing with abandoned properties. Richmond Mayor Jeff Young said there are six to eight obvious abandoned homes in the town, and the biggest issue they face is cost.
“It’s hard,” Young said, “because you’re messing with personal property rights and cities try to keep the rights in order. What happens is people hold onto homes, it’s held, so unless there’s something that deems them a hazard, it becomes tough.”
When the state of Utah expanded Highway 91, the Texaco gas station in Richmond was abandoned until the city purchased the property.
“It basically became a drug hot spot where they would drop stuff off. It started getting tagged all the time until we secured the property. That was over a three year period. We completely removed it,” Young said.
Young also said that abandoned properties have been problematic for quite some time, and the biggest issue is people not taking care of property and eventually abandoning it. If houses can still be rented, chances are they’ll be rented out.
“I try not to get too upset about the abandoned homes,” Mikesell said. “I’ve always dreamed about winning the lottery and buying the guy out. At the same time, the last thing I want to see is Utah turn into California.”
For example, National City, California, explicitly states in its municipal code that all abandoned buildings are deemed “public nuisances” and can be dealt with accordingly via demolition or rehabilitation. If owners do not respond to requests within 90 days, the city can remove the property forcefully and the owner can be charged with a misdemeanor.
For better or worse — likely depending on whether you own a vacant property or you live next to one — local officials seem to favor a more cautious approach.