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County deals with
burned-out house


By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  The discussion and action taken by the Henry County Board of Commissioners last week regarding a nuisance abatement issue illustrates the length to which a municipality must go at times to deal with problems while respecting property rights.

A photo of the burned-out home at 539 Grove Pointe Court in Locust Grove that was the topic of a recent Board of Commissioners meeting.
                                       Photo by Monroe Roark

  The house at 539 Grove Pointe Court in Locust Grove burned to the ground in August of 2010, county code enforcement director Arthur Weems pointed out at the board meeting, and an assessment by the Building Department showed that it cannot be rebuilt in its current state. Weems asked the commissioners for authorization to move forward with the demolition of the dilapidated structure.

  His office has spent three years dealing with banks and mortgage companies as well as the previous residents of the property. The couple who lived there went through a divorce, and Weems said the former wife got the property in the divorce but is now deceased, while the former husband is not interested in the property at all.

  As part of its due diligence, Weems’ office received a letter in May of 2011 from the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), saying that it had “charged off” the mortgage on the property.

  Weems displayed numerous photos of the structure, inside and out, to show the extent of the damage. He said that since it was abandoned, there have already been cases of dumping as well as vandalism such as theft of copper from the site.

  “The structure is a total loss,” said Weems. “It has no value.”

  Chairman Tommy Smith said he wanted the audience to be clear on what “nuisance abatement” actually is.

  “If the government is going on private property, it needs a rhyme or reason to do it,” said Smith.

“This is America, and we have property rights. You have to jump through the right hoops and complete the process.”

  Smith added that during a previous stint in code enforcement while a county employee a decade ago, “my eyes were opened about what it takes to get to this point.”

  Weems said there are probably 20-25 houses in the county in this condition, and his office deals with them on a case-by-case basis. He focuses most of his attention on those houses in neighborhoods, such as this one, before those that are on acreage and less likely to impact surrounding properties.

  “The people around this property have been very patient,” he said. “Now they are getting antsy, and we need to do something.”

The county will have to spend some money to demolish the site and make it a buildable lot again. The lowest bid Weems received for the job was $6,550 from a firm in Griffin, and that was more than 30 days ago so the figure could be a little higher. Weems said he has money in his budget for the job.

  The cost can be recouped through a lien on the property if the owner does not pay. There is also a tax lien on the site that would be satisfied first.

  County attorney LaTonya Wiley laid out the procedure going forward after BOC approval. There will be a title search and a legal petition in court, with a hearing before a judge who will likely enter an order giving the property owner a final window to address the issues. That could be around 30 days or longer, Wiley said. After that time expires, the county can go onto the property and do what needs to be done.

  “You can’t just go on the property tomorrow,” she said. “There is still a process before taking drastic measures.”

  The board approved the resolution to proceed.



©Henry County Times, Inc.