Addressing the abandoned

Minot’s effort to address abandoned and neglected properties needs to become more strategic and organized, a city committee decided Wednesday.

The Minot City Council’s Public Works and Safety Committee voted to direct city staff to develop a plan and process for taking action against derelict properties, based on criteria set out by the committee. The criteria include classifying houses based on structural defects, weeds, health and safety and determining which houses should be demolished and which should be rehabilitated. Each property would be on a timeline, based on the seriousness of its condition.

Council member and committee chairman Scott Knudsvig proposed the initial criteria. He said city staff has been addressing problems, but the criteria can help direct those efforts.

Shaun Sipma, spokesman for a citizens group concerned about homes abandoned after the 2011 flood, said the group stands ready to assist in being the eyes in the neighborhoods, ensuring that properties are identified and alerting the city to the status of an owner’s progress on a targeted property.

“This isn’t a witch hunt. We are not going after a bunch of homeowners who don’t have the resources to rebuild these houses to kick someone when they are down,” Sipma said. Rather, he said, financial institutions or others with resources to take care of these properties should be reminded of their obligations.

He also urged the city to step up its efforts.

“Over the last three years, we have seen the deterioration of these homes continue. Hundreds of these homes really haven’t gotten any better. I think the hope of seeing progress is past,” he said. “In three years, if nothing has been done, nothing is going to be done.”

Information provided in a memo to the committee stated that one resident documented more than 300 properties in various states of disrepair. City engineer Lance Meyer said the city has identified more than 70 properties that need attention and has been refining that list and prioritizing properties to address the most serious issues first.

Council member Dave Lehner said he is concerned that banks have five years to dispose of properties that come into their possession. He presented the scenario of a homeowner who hangs onto a property and does nothing for three years before losing the property to a bank, which has another five years in which it may do nothing.

City attorney Colleen Auer said an owner is accountable to keep a property in compliance with housing code, regardless of who the owner is. The city can take a violator to court to enforce an abatement order.

Auer said the city has authority to declare a health and safety violation if there are structural issues. If there are environmental issues, then First District Health Unit gets involved. Lehner asked about getting into homes to determine whether a health issue exists, and Auer responded that it can be done through an administrative warrant.

The city and First District have been tap-dancing around who should be seeking warrants, she said.

“We need to get past that,” she said. “We, the city, will do everything in our power to move that forward.”

She said the city would urge First District to stand behind it on any warrant actions, adding, “As long as our interests are aligned and they are and we are motivated to get this done, then we can make it happen.”