Council discusses neglected homes

BROWNSTOWN

The Brownstown Town Council has had enough when it comes to homes being abandoned by their owners.

During a council meeting last month, council member Bethany Brewster said it’s time for the town to be proactive with ordinance enforcement.

Then at the council’s first meeting this month, President John Nolting asked town attorney Rodney Farrow what the town can do to speed up the process of cleaning up the properties.

Farrow said the town can authorize him to file a civil action against the homeowner, and the court can issue an injunction. The town also could give the homeowner a direct order to fix the issue and then fine them a certain amount each day until it’s resolved.

Currently, a town resident can stop by the town hall and fill out a complaint form, describing issues with a home. Clerk-Treasurer David Willey then would put it on a council meeting agenda to be discussed.

If Willey already has sent an ordinance violation letter to a resident and he or she has not taken any action, the council can ask Farrow to send a letter. The homeowner also is given a chance to attend a meeting to explain the situation.

Typically, homeowners in violation of the town ordinance are given 30 days to correct the problem. Farrow, however, said that should be handled on a case-by-case basis, noting that the town can determine how long to give a homeowner to get in compliance.

Depending on the circumstance of the violation, Farrow said the town could document the issue with photographs. He said the town’s police department could help with that because a search warrant is required to enter someone’s home. If it’s a health-related issue, he said the county health department may be able to assist.

The Brownstown Town Council was prompted to take action on abandoned homes after Roy “Gene” Wingler attended a meeting in October to address an issue on Valley Drive in the Wayman addition on the south side of the town.

Since a home was abandoned on that street about two months ago, grass and weeds had grown nearly 5 feet tall, and roaches were running rampant. Some of those roaches also got into a neighbor’s home.

Willey had sent letters to the owner, explaining they were in violation of the town’s weed control ordinance and had seven days to resolve the problem.

The owner, however, never took care of the issue, has since moved out of state and is letting a bank take over the house. The town hasn’t been able to determine the name of the bank.

“That process takes a while sometimes before a bank forecloses and takes ownership,” Willey said.

Town employees recently gained access to the back yard and mowed the grass, which hopefully will cut down on the presence of roaches.

A neighbor told Wingler they recently saw someone spraying around the house, but he wasn’t sure if it was for bugs or something else.

Wingler and Willey both said they had notified the county health department but hadn’t received a response.

At last month’s council meeting, Farrow said the town’s weed control ordinance probably needs to be rewritten. Currently, if a homeowner doesn’t take care of high grass or weeds, town employees or an outside contractor can do it, and then the owner is billed.

Nolting said the town has an ordinance regarding junk vehicles but not junky yards or nuisance properties.

The town also doesn’t have an unsafe building ordinance, but Farrow said he would work on writing a proposal for the council to review.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.