- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Buyers of blighted and vacant properties in Evansville could be forced to inspect the properties and file plans for bringing them up to code under a proposal by a city councilwoman frustrated that little gets done at many tax-delinquent properties sold under the city’s current auction system.

Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley said many buyers don’t realize how difficult and expensive it will be to renovate the often-blighted properties. She wants to form a group of city and county officials and experts in property maintenance and disposal to discuss alternatives to the auction, the Evansville Courier & Press reported (https://bit.ly/1sauPkL ).

“There has to be a way to force the new buyer to understand what they’re getting into,” Brinkerhoff-Riley said. “What happens over and over is that these houses sell at auction and then nothing gets done with them. The buyer, when they get around to it, actually gets into the house and discovers that it can’t be flipped for the budget they have or that it can’t be rented for the budget they have.”

Brinkerhoff-Riley said the buyers often fail to pay taxes on the property, which then returns to a tax sale in even worse condition.

She’s proposing requiring buyers to post a bond and file a site plan for bringing the properties up to code within 30 days of purchase. The city also would impose a 12-month deadline to complete renovations.

Licensed contractors would be required to inspect the property and identify the work that needs to be done, she said.

“It’s better for the buyer to have to go in and really understand what the cost will be to bring it up to code, and it’s really better for us because that property doesn’t sit there for a decade before we actually tear it down,” she said.

Building Commissioner Ben Miller estimated that several thousand structures in the city and county likely meet the legal criteria for demolition. Several hundred of those, Miller said, “are of immediate concern.”

The city set aside $500,000 in riverboat money for demolitions this year, and Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s administration proposes spending the same amount in 2015.

Officials said demolition can be used as an economic tool. They point to South Bend, which undertook an initiative in 2013 to repair or demolish 1,000 vacant or abandoned houses in 1,000 days.

But they also note that South Bend appropriated $1.5 million for demolitions this year, well more than Evansville has planned.

Vanderburgh County officials say they hold auctions to get the properties into the hands of people who will maintain them and pay taxes on them.

Brinkerhoff-Riley thinks there’s a better way.

“If the truth were known about these properties and what it would actually take to bring them up to code or to make them habitable, nobody would buy it,” she said. “The amount of money it would take to bring it up to code, you would never get back in a sale.”

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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