Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

City Cracks Down on Blighted Properties

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

City Cracks Down on Blighted Properties

Article excerpt

Topeka property owners with blighted houses will likely receive twice as many citations this year.

The spike -- from 1,600 housing cases in 2016 to a goal of 3,200 this year -- isn't due to an increase in blight in the city. Instead code enforcement officers are working more efficiently to tackle violations, said Mike Haugen, city property maintenance manager. At the end of last week inspectors had opened nearly 9,000 cases in total, including overgrown weeds, graffiti, parked cars and sanitation issues. More than 2,000 of those cases were housing code violations, he said.

Inspectors are concentrating efforts on properties along the city's major arteries, like Kansas Avenue, Topeka Boulevard and 17th Street.

"They're our gateways," Haugen said. "That's what everyone sees when they come to our city."

As A.J. Rivera pushed a lawnmower through thick grass one afternoon, he said the city recently cited the home on S. Kansas Avenue for an overgrown yard. Rivera planned to clean up the yard before the city issued a fine, but said taking care of the property had taken a backseat to other priorities.

Along with caring for his mother, who has trouble walking because of a disability, and a sister, Rivera must make regular appointments at the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center for his own disability.

"It's tough when you have to get people to doctor appointments and work," he said.

Prior to receiving a notice in the mail, Rivera said he didn't know the grass had become a code violation. City code says grass can't exceed one foot in height.

If Rivera hadn't mowed his lawn within 10 days of receiving the citation, he could have been fined $106 or more than $350 if the city had mowed it. Citations for sanitation issues can exceed $1,000 depending on the issue, Haugen said. Housing code violations are also costly.

Haugen said the city is willing to work with property owners, especially since violations can carry steep fines along with the cost of maintenance. …

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