- Associated Press - Sunday, August 31, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Code enforcers call them “dead properties.”

Houses around Evansville sit vacant and deteriorating year after year. Their owners don’t pay taxes or care for the property because they are dead.

It seems absurd; the dead can’t own property. Yet, title searches of vacant houses periodically name deceased people as the legal owner of record. And every year, local government sends them tax bills and legal notices. They are cited and fined when they don’t cut their grass, and when the abandoned home inevitably start falling apart. When they fail to pay the fines, the city places a lien on the home.

It happens more often than you’d think.

Last year, at least 33 of the houses that went up for tax sale had dead owners. And the Building Commission deals with a dozen or more houses with deceased owners every year, said Ron Beane, the deputy Evansville-Vanderburgh County building commissioner.

That’s because they often create problems. Twice this year, massive fires erupted at vacant homes with deceased owners. In April, 747 E. Bellemeade Ave. nearly burned to the ground and later was demolished in an emergency raze paid for by the city. The now vacant lot is still owned by Helen Barnhill and her son Charles C. Carrethers, who died years ago.

In early August a fire at 1607 S. Bedford Ave. injured a firefighter and spread to a nearby home. Owner Carol Ann Rozanski died in 2011.

“That place used to be beautiful,” said George Garst, motioning to Rozanski’s burned-out house. He stood on the front porch of his neatly kept home, which sits directly across the street.

“Now, you get tired of looking at it. It’s an eyesore,” he told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1zzsUpy ).

Garst has watched the home’s steady decline over the last three years. At first it was just the unkempt weeds in the front yard that were a nuisance. But as the house started to deteriorate, it attracted homeless people. Squatters and other criminals came and went unchecked. The number of car thefts in the neighborhood seemed to rise, and Garst and other neighbors worried their homes would be targeted next.

Then 1607 caught fire.

“I wouldn’t mind buying it just to demolish it,” Garst said.

But you can’t buy property from a dead person.

Houses like 1607 S. Bedford and 747 Bellemeade are caught in a kind of legal limbo, said Brian Carroll, a local probate and estate planning attorney. He also is the former local building commission hearing officer.

When a homeowner dies, there are a set of laws in place for who can inherit the property.

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