Taking Action For You: Abandoned building safety

U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyTed Johnson

If a building in your community is abandoned and a danger to the public, you might think the county is responsible for cleaning it up and keeping people safe. However, it is not that simple.

Back in August, Fox59 reported a two-story hardware store that was abandoned in Hillisburg, Ind. decades ago. Fox59 was told by Clinton County officials the building would be sold in a commissioner’s sale September 8. Then, the new owner would be responsible for cleanup.  However, that never happened.

Now, Fox59 learned that even if it sells, it would be a year before it could be torn now.

The concern when Fox59 visited the property initially was that if something was not done immediately, it would continue to deteriorate, and it has. The ceiling in the back has fallen down even more and the glass in the front broken and all over the sidewalk, said Tim Davis, who lives next door.

Davis said teenagers recently shattered the front window with a railroad spike, putting themselves and others in danger.

“I had the kids here; yeah I chased them down and brought them here,” said Davis. “It is serious stuff. Someone is going to get hurt in here.”

Sheriff deputies responded to the home, but public officials are not legally allowed to tear down the property to stop the problem.

“Our main concern as residents here is the kids that play in this building,” said Steve Reagan, who lives near the Hillisburg property.

The property is full of tires, cans of oil, bugs and animals.

Commissioner Skip Evans said the property was taken off the sale so a nonprofit could take possession. However, the group backed out.  The next sale would not bring a fast solution.

“We could take possession of it under the commissioners certificate sale and that's what we'll plan to do but the bad thing about that is that is going to be march and we'll have to wait four months to take possession,” said Evans.

A tax sale is another option, but nobody made an offer in tax sales in 2006 or last month. The buyer would have to pay the more than $7,800 in back taxes because the county sells the lien, not the property.  

Even at that, Clinton County Treasurer Ron Niemesh said it is a slow process.

“If, let’s say, you own the property first and I bought it at the tax certificate sale, you have a year to let's say redeem that,” said Niemesh.

So who is responsible if something tragic were to happen? The Clinton County attorney, Ted Johnson, said it is still the owner, Carol Teatro, who is rumored to be living in a nursing home. She could deed the property over to the county, but officials say they cannot find her.

Niemesh said they do mail her letters each time the property is included in a tax sale.

“Other than what we have on our software, that's what we know,” said Niemesh. “There's an address there. Whether she's there or not, I have no idea.”

The Clinton County Economic Development Director, Shan Sheridan, along with an environmental group did apply for decommissioning money to tear the building down.

“We’re going after emergency money with EPA to get this thing to come down because what's happened is that our firm that we're working with is telling us I’m not going to send my guys down there unless that property is down,” said Sheridan.

Then the EPA could test for contaminants, which he said could be the only way to truly take care of this.

“This is a $400,000 grant for our county that will allow us to assess multiple Brownfields pieces in our county, which are certainly needed,” said Sheridan.

After the tear down and testing, the Brownfields money could be used to make the property safe. They will find out about the initial grant by December.

For more information on the Brownfields and Land Revitalization program, visit their website.

Read more on the Property Tax Lein Sale process in Indiana.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyTed Johnson