The house at 428 Doris Circle in Aberdeen has sat empty for four years, a concern for neighbors who say its deteriorating condition is an eyesore.
Concerned that it might be unstable and a health nuisance, the city government boarded the dwelling up about a year ago, and it continues to sit unoccupied.
The status of the house has been in flux for several years, city Public Works Director Kyle Torster told Aberdeen City Council members at a recent work session.
But Mayor Patrick McGrady said its status finally could be near resolution, as the city has been able to contact someone with knowledge of the property's ownership status.
The house is run down and not maintained and "no one in this room would want to look at it," former Aberdeen Council member Ruth Ann Young told the council members. She lives across the street.
"I should have my taxes reduced because the crap I have to look at," said Young, who is normally fairly soft-spoken.
The house's owner died in 2013 and had no known next of kin. The house was picked up by a prospective buyer at a tax sale, but the buyer never picked up the deed to transfer ownership, Torster said. The matter has since been tied up in tax court.
The city has tried to have the house condemned, which can be done for safety and structural issues, he said.
The city hired a structural engineer who said "the bones of the building are structurally sound," Torster said. The only concerns were a sunroom on the back of the house and a retaining wall that "will at some time diminish and fall down."
The late owner was an artist with a number of genres in a house full of materials. Engineers found mold and the house was boarded up, Torster said.
The city attorney, Fred Sussman, told city officials the city can't do anything but advise the prospective owner of the issues that need to be addressed — the sunroom and retaining wall.
The city can not pursue demolition, Torster said.
"The code does not allow me, if the house is vacant, there is no risk, if it's boarded up, because it's on private property, even though it's an eyesore, it does not allow me to do anything," he said.
The only thing the city can do is try to maintain the grass "growing out of control" and the shrubs around the house, Torster said.
There is a $20,000 lien on the house because the city has been cutting the grass, he said. The lien goes up each time the city mows the grass or does other necessary maintenance.
City Manager Randy Robertson said he suspects the house was bought by one of several large firms that typically buy at tax sales and never see the properties.
"Then they hold them without taking possession of the property," Robertson said.
The problem, McGrady said, is getting anyone from the firm to meet with the city to discuss the issues.
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"My assessment… is it's a big machine, there's no view of impacting residents," Torster said.
McGrady said Wednesday, however, that the city attorney has been able to make contact with the prospective new owner.
"There is a dispute regarding whether or not they have clear title. The city attorney says they own it, but they say they haven't picked up the deed so they don't own it," McGrady said. "The neighbors' primary concerns are securing the property and landscaping/trees/bamboo growth on the property. It looks like all this will be resolved shortly."
The Doris Circle house has brought to the council's attention issues with the city code concerning at what point action can be taken on a vacant building.
"It's a broader conversation that's regarding abandoned houses in general; 428 is just one. There are a lot of them out there," Robertson said.
The city has to be very careful when dealing with the rights of private citizens and entering their property, Torster said.
"One person's desire of how [a house] looks and another person's view of how it should be maintained are sometimes vastly different," he said.