Abandoned and Cleared, from Condemned House to New ‘Lease’ on Life

Abandoned or derelict houses have a detrimental effect on a neighborhood and in the long run, on a city’s potential for economic gain.  Lamar, according to Chief Building Inspector, Bobby Ward, has about 20 such houses than can be torn down.  Once the house is removed, the vacant lots can be used for new housing.  The result is a better looking neighborhood, increased property values and the newly occupied house generates revenue as a taxable property and requires a hookup to local utilities.  Unfortunately, removing houses like this involves time, paperwork and paying for title searches, inspections and demolition.  Most of the homes in Lamar, he said, are located north of Parmenter Street.  “Before we can do anything, we need to inspect the property.  I need permission to inspect the house and have to be able to gain access to the interior,” he explained.  Ward said, “Sometimes I’ll get a call from someone in the vicinity of a house in a neighborhood informing us the place has been vacated.  From that point, we see what we can do about performing a visual inspection to start with.” 

“Most older houses in our community have some form of asbestos incorporated into them,” explained Ward.  He said the material has to be removed and disposed of in a safe manner and that’s where the cost comes in.  Last year Ward said the City of Lamar spent $15,000 and managed to either take down or have 10 houses pulled away, leaving the property vacant for future development.  2013’s budget was used up for just four houses so far, but there was unused funding which was carried over into this year, so the city now has $14,000 that can be applied.  Ward noted that right now, there are four houses to be inspected for tear down, another one has been inspected and action will be taken on that one in the future.   “We have to conduct due diligence before we remove a property,” Ward explained, “I have to post the property and give 60 days notice.  We need to conduct a title search and eventually have the property deeded to the city.   

“The costs on these projects vary,” Ward said, adding, “One house cost $30,000 all total to have the asbestos removed to the landfill and to have the house demolished.   He said the costs involve an initial identification of the type of asbestos, whether it’s friable or solid and that determines how it’s handled.  One person is also on hand to monitor the removal to see if any materials are getting into the neighborhood by way of air.  There are occasions during demolition when the debris is constantly kept wet to minimize what gets into the air.   “A nine by nine floor tile will contain asbestos,” Ward explained.  “We also found asbestos several years ago in the glue used to hold down the tiles by the door in the rear of the Lamar Library and there was a cost for that removal,” he said.  Asbestos can also be found in the popcorn-type ceiling spray, in sheet rock and the mud used between the sheetrock and it was used as an ingredient in stucco in some older houses. 

The Lamar landfill accepts what’s termed, non-friable asbestos.  The friable material can be squeezed tightly in your hand and crumbles like dust and becomes airborne.  The solid materials are double wrapped in plastic and stored in a special area of the landfill.  Ward explained that if you want to alter or remove a wall in your house that’s larger than 160 square feet, you’ll require an inspection associated with your building permit.   

Ward said the means by which the vacant property is sold will be left to the city council.  It will have to be priced, advertised and either offered at a set value through a realtor or perhaps sold off through a minimum bid auction.  Once the property is in private ownership again, it’s ready for a house, and general neighborhood improvement, taxes and utilities.

By Russ Baldwin



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