Legal limbo

GREENFIELD — Cole Hood planned to rehab the dilapidated property at 315 W. South St. when he bought it last year in a tax sale — now the city might tear it down before he has the chance.

When Hood forked over $6,000 for the vacant house last fall, he didn’t see an eyesore; he saw an opportunity. The 21-year-old Greenfield man planned to put in some sweat equity and turn a profit on a structure others left unattended so long it was deemed abandoned and put up for auction.

But Hood’s plans are in a holding pattern as he waits for the deed for the property — a process that takes a year in order to ensure the current homeowners have a chance to reclaim the property if they choose. In the meantime, Greenfield officials are eyeing the property for demolition, declaring it an unsafe building that poses risk to the public’s health.

The house is one of three run-down houses targeted for demolition this year. Property owners have so far made no efforts to clean up the properties on South, Pennsylvania and Tague streets, despite numerous citations and letters from city officials ordering them to make improvements or face city intervention, said planning and zoning administrator Joanie Fitzwater.

As part of Greenfield’s unsafe building program, city officials are tracking as many as 24 dilapidated properties they say pose a risk to public safety. In addition to the three already being considered for demolition, six to eight others likely need to come down, zoning officials have said.

The three homes already targeted are in the worst shape, and city officials have declared them unsafe. Now, the city can move forward with tearing them down, Fitzwater said.

The Greenfield Board of Public Works and Safety this week ordered two of the property owners to demolish the homes by April 22. If they don’t take action within 10 days of that deadline, the city will be able to hire a contractor to do the work and place a tax lien on the property to recoup the cost associated with the work.

The homes sit at 19 Tague St. and 773 S. Pennsylvania Ave. The Tague Street house has broken doors and windows, it’s falling in on itself; some rooms have no floor, according to city documents.

The Pennsylvania Street mobile home is also in severe disarray; its doors and windows don’t shut, documents state.

But Hood and his mother, Jill Davis, showed up to the board meeting this week to plead their case; no one has shown an interest in improving the other properties on the city’s demolition list, but theirs has a future, they say.

Davis said last October, her son invested his savings into the South Street house during a tax sale with plans to repair the house.

Because he wasn’t legally allowed to enter the structure before purchasing it, Hood didn’t realize the property was in such poor shape, she said. Per state law, Hood has to wait until October to gain the deed for the property, which would allow him to make repairs without the possibility of the property owner swooping in and taking back full ownership.

Indiana tax sale laws give property owners one year to reclaim their property by paying off the delinquent taxes and other fees. The law intends to protect property owners but also leaves ambitious buyers like Hood in legal limbo.

Hood has never heard from the property owners, who live in Florida, he said, despite mailings alerting them to the tax sale.

City officials who began investigating the property in 2014 deemed it uninhabitable, citing a deteriorating roof, broken windows and doors and a faulty foundation. City paperwork detailing the house’s condition state it’s in the public’s best interest for it to be demolished.

But a contractor Hood hired to assess the cost of rehabilitating the house told him the foundation can be repaired, making the home salvageable, Davis said.

At a public hearing this week, Fitzwater said her office will work with a structural engineer in the next two weeks to determine whether the house’s foundation is salvageable before city officials decide whether to proceed with the demolition process or grant Hood an extension.

Fitzwater said Hood and the city have the same goal — addressing an eyesore property and putting it back on the tax rolls.

“We would of course want to allow an owner of that property … to have every opportunity to correct it,” she said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.