Communities fighting back: How neighbors can address vacant housing

We’ve all seen it. That one house. The house that steals attention away from all the other well-kept, beautifully restored properties on the street. Whether it’s yard stick high grass, unwieldy brush, dilapidated porches, or open entries, we know vacant housing is not only an eye sore, but a safety hazard as well.

Though the problem may seem overwhelming, we as neighbors are not powerless. There are several steps we can take to help alleviate the burden vacant housing causes on our community. Here are just a few.

First, if something is not up to code, report it! Grass, weeds, or brush over 12 inches, any unsecured, unboarded windows or doors, graffiti, holes in the roof or clearly deteriorating porches, junk cars, and bulk trash or debris are all examples of code violations. To report a violation, call 614-645-3111 or visit 311.columbus.gov. Once on the website click “submit a service request” and follow the automated process. You will need an address to complete a code violation report.

2. Speaking of addresses, here’s one way you can find them! If you find yourself driving by a particularly egregious house over and over again, but never remember to check for an address try using the Franklin County Auditor’s website to track it down. The website address is: http://www.franklincountyauditor.com/. Once on the site, click “your property” then “property search.” On the left side bar, you can search for a property by intersection, point on a map, address, or owner’s name. Once you find the appropriate general area, you can click on individual parcels (they’re in orange) to bring up all the important information about the property. There you can find out who the owner is, if the property is tax delinquent, and, if applicable, a rental contact.

Now that you’ve reported the property and found out who the owner is, there are a couple more things you can try. Sometimes a well written letter signed by the local civic association or neighbors detailing the effect of the property on their quality of life can have an impact. You could send the letter directly to the property owner in the hopes that they’ll reconsider neglecting their property.

If that doesn’t work, you can contact the City Attorney’s Zone Initiative Office. The Assistant City Attorney for our Precinct is Jody Spurlock. Her information can be found here. The City Attorney’s office may be able to give you more information on the status of the property and tell you if it is already in court. If it is, a letter may help demonstrate to prosecutors and judges the negative impact a property is having on the surrounding community.

Finally, there’s the old fashioned way. Roll up your sleeves and organize a community clean up. Cut down overgrown brush that makes it easy for people to hide or break into a property. Pick up trash. Paint boarded windows and doors to look like windows and doors. Mow lawns that have gotten out of hand.

First English Lutheran Church and Central Community House are organizing a good old fashioned clean up in honor of Earth Day. The event will take place Saturday, April 14th at 9 AM. We’ll meet at First English (1015 E. Main St.), then split up into groups with some people working to beautify gardens, some on trash pick up, and others on vacant lot clean ups. Please save the date and join us! We’ll gather back at First English at 12:30 for a cookout.

I hope these tips can help you get started. If you have further questions, please contact Courtney at 614-242-3157 x126.

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