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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley takes aim at ‘nuisance properties’

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Spokane Valley officials are considering a new ordinance to tackle nuisance properties.

City officials are focusing enforcement efforts on abandoned homes with accumulations of trash and junk due to the health hazards they pose, as well as their connection to crime and unauthorized occupation by squatters.

Prior to the city’s incorporation in 2003, code compliance for abandoned properties wasn’t strictly enforced, city leaders say. As a result, several homes were left in disrepair.

The city handles about 330 compliance cases per year, with 30 of those cases forwarded to the city attorney for potential legal action, according to city documents.

A nuisance case can be initiated by city staff observation, referral from another agency or citizen complaints.

Homeowners would receive several warnings and opportunities to clean up the property before facing fines or legal action. Options include visits from a code compliance officer, notices, or the choice to work with the city to establish a property cleanup timeline.

Under the proposed ordinance, once legal action is taken, the city would be allowed to recoup all costs associated with demolishing or cleaning up the property by placing a lien on the home. The city’s current law allows for $2,000 to be recovered by the city, because state law dictates any previous liens on the home be fulfilled first.

Councilman Arne Woodard said nuisance home cleanup in the past was a laborious process that cost thousands of dollars and took years to enforce because of limited resources.

“That’s paid for by the taxpayers and that’s not right,” Woodard said.

Woodard said the council is aware the public is frustrated with nuisance properties; however, because the city has a limited budget for abandoned property cleanup, it restricts its efforts to focusing on the “worst of the worst” properties.

Properties with numerous reports of criminal activity also would fall under the proposed nuisance ordinance. If the home has more than four criminal events plus a junk violation, or five criminal complaints in a year, then the city could proceed with legal action.

Councilwoman Linda Thompson supports efforts to strengthen the nuisance property rules.

“There has been a long-term nuisance house on Broadway (Avenue) and Park (Road) that has burned down many years ago and I kept thinking, ‘Why isn’t anything being done about this?’ The ordinance provides one more tool in the city’s toolbox to support neighborhoods and keep them clean and safe,” Thompson said. “We want to make sure we maintain the value of homes in neighborhoods.”

City staff will present the proposed ordinance to the council at its Jan. 9 meeting.