Health hazard to residents finally cleaned

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2003

Major Walker couldn’t handle the problem anymore.

That house Walker referred to &045;&045; located at 1113 Arcola Road &045;&045; has become a bastion for rodents and strangers; empty beer cans and shattered glass.

Apparently, the owner of the house passed away years ago. And since then, not an heir to the house has helped clean the place. In return, the roof has all but collapsed, the weeds have grown to shoulder-high levels, and most importantly, the threat to surrounding neighbors includes everything from snakes to armadillos.

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On Thursday, more than 10 of Walker’s neighbors joined him at the city council meeting to plead for help.

Friday morning, something was done. Members of the council and Mayor Austin Caldwell decided the city would put a crew on the house, cut the grass, tear away the fallen limbs and alleviate some of the dangers associated with the house.

The neighbors would have been just as happy if that happened, and their request to the council included everything from cleaning the yard to burning the structure down.

Friday morning, Walker and a couple of other neighbors stood in a light drizzle as city crews brought a Bush Hog, weed eaters and a tractor to the house on Arcola Road.

An on-going problem

Having worn houses around any community is not unique to Demopolis. In this city alone, there are dozens of houses considered eye-sores and dangers to nearby residents. Unfortunately for those who live near the dangerous structures, the city does not enjoy the right of trampling on just any piece of property and tearing a house down.

For that matter, city crews don’t even have the right to immediately start cutting the grass.

City Attorney Rick Manley, targeted by Councilman Willard Williams for not solving the problem of the worn-down houses earlier, was not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting. However, Manley knows the problems of the houses and he has sent hundreds of letters "across the nation" trying to find the rightful owners of these houses.

And finding the heirs is no walk in the park.

Manley explained one case of a dilapidated house where the owner and his widow passed away, the rightful heir then passed away, and the heirs to the heir couldn’t be found.

What makes matters worse is that if the heirs claim the property, they have to spend nearly $1,000 on taxes and other costs included in property upkeep.

To make matters simple, Manley explained that the city can never claim a piece of property until it is turned over by the heirs.

However, the city does have the option of having an agency place a lien on the property. If taxes aren’t paid by the delinquent date, the property would be sold on the steps of the courthouse in April.

Another Solution

On Friday morning, as the city cleaned the lot on Arcola Road, Manley was concerned about the consequences of that one project.

And state law is fairly clear on the access a city government has on property like the one cleaned Friday.

In essence, the city will set up a three-person committee that can make decisions on each piece of property. The council and Manley will make a recommendation to the committee, and it will then be up to them to determine what is done with each parcel of property. Among the options will be to clean the houses, burn the houses down or tear those houses down.