LAMPASAS — Lampasas city officials are aware of the number of dilapidated and deteriorating homes in the city and are working to improve the procedure to make sure property owners are cleaning up.
Recently, the city conducted a housing assessment with the help of Holtkamp Planning of Austin.
“We have probably 20 to 25 houses that have been, through a windshield survey, considered dilapidated,” said City Manager Finley deGraffenried.
“Dilapidated” homes appear to have significant damage and decay and may be unsafe for habitation, according to a map of the assessment’s findings. Homes considered to be “deteriorating” show visible decay and appear to be poorly maintained, while “standard” homes show no visible defects and appear well-maintained.
Most homes in the city meet standards, but a smattering of deteriorating and possibly dilapidated homes dot the landscape across the city.
Chapter 18 of the Lampasas Municipal Code of Ordinances defines what a “dangerous building or structure” is, including buildings that are “substandard or unfit for human habitation and a hazard to the public health, safety and welfare,” among a list of other qualifications.
Sgt. Tony Barrio with the Lampasas Police Department described the hazards dilapidated homes pose to the public.
“They’re what you would call an ‘attractive nuisance,’” Barrio said, referring to children and homeless people being attracted to the homes. “Some of them are in such bad shape, you can fall through a floor. ... A lot are infested with rodents, so you risk rat bites, and mosquitoes breed in standing water.”
Barrio said police officers often identify dilapidated or deteriorating homes as they come across them, not through resident complaints.
When a complaint does come across his desk, deGraffenried said he makes a point to address it as quickly as possible.
“We try to provide a follow-up with the person who contacted us initially to let them know we received their call and, as vague as it sounds, are working on it,” he said. “It’s on a case-by-case basis, depending on the condition and what sort of complaint it was.”
Many complaints, according to deGraffenried and Barrio, are aesthetics-based.
The typical procedure following a complaint or notice of a dilapidated building first involves trying to contact the property owner.
“Certainly the number one goal is voluntary compliance,” deGraffenried said. “The most common-sense action we want to take is to talk to property owners and see if we can reach any solutions to bring their property up to compliance.”
Sometimes, officials run into the problem of the last listed property owner on the tax rolls being deceased, so they must search for the person’s relatives.
“Some of the original owners die off, and the children either are not here or don’t want to fool with it,” Barrio said. “Or there’s several children and they get into a dispute over who gets the house. ... They basically give up. It’s not worth a fight with other siblings.”
In the case where a property owner cannot be reached or is not willing to work out an agreement, the city can place liens on the property or make civil claims on property owners.
If a third-party inspector determines a property to be unsalvageable, costs of demolition often come back to the city.
“It’s very expensive. The days are long gone where we could send the fire department over to burn something down,” deGraffenried said. “It can cost $10,000 to $15,000 per structure. ... The city does have some recourse to recoup those costs. Unfortunately, a lot of times, it’s difficult to recoup any or some of those costs.”
Nevertheless, deGraffenried said the city is becoming more thorough in reporting conditions and more efficient in following up with complainants and its communication with property owners.
“I think once the community sees we’re taking action on the properties and we’re following through, it’s probably going to get some of the homeowners geared up to maybe do something with the property,” Barrio said. “Before, there wasn’t a follow-up. We’ve changed that now. We’re going the distance and we’re going to do everything required by law to get these structures up to code or demolished.”