“This is what you call danger.” That’s what Katie Evans told me in the summer of 2013 as she gazed at an abandoned structure just feet from her own home. She had been asking the city of Savannah to demolish the place for a few years by then. But the city said then it was legally required to try and find the absentee landlord and order repairs. It also said the structure was boarded up and looked bad but appeared to be structurally sound. Evans was concerned. She said rats and other animals were making a home inside and whatever the city said, she felt it was unsafe especially since curious neighborhood children were often close by.
By the next year in the summer of 2014, we visited East Gwinnett Street again. The house was still there and Evans was even more angry and concerned. “Nothing’s been done and it’s getting worse,” she told me then. Later that summer, the house was place on the list of the 100 Worst Houses in Savannah. The city continued to try to get the out of state property owner to respond. But nothing happened.
Last week (2015) we receive a call from Evans. The house is being demolished. In an afternoon, her concerns about safety disappear. “Well I’m happy that the problem is gone because the only reason I was complaining was because it was dangerous,” she tells me. Then she says she’s been complaining to the city for about ten years.
Saja Aures, from the city of Savannah Public Information Office says their records indicate complaints dated back seven years. “The original owner stopped being compliant or working with us in any way a few years back ,” she said. Still, Aures says the law required the city to keep sending letters and make attempts to reach the property owner. “Between 2007 and 2014 we continually re-inspected the property to make sure it was structurally sound and when it became unsound that’s when we were able to initiate the demolition process,” said Aures.
Evans though says if not for her “the house would probably still been here.” She thinks the fact she never gave up and made consistent calls and complaints mattered.
Aures says the city is required to give property owners the benefit of the doubt and to do so consistently. She says state law does favor property rights. “It’s definitely asking for a lot of patience and some understanding on the part of the neighbors,” She told me.
Aures says citizens may not be aware of all the things going on behind the scenes to try and make property owners take action. But she says the city’s not only dealt with this property but is working on the other 99 houses on the list. She says of those 99, about 50 property owners are working with the city to try to comply to code. She says the rest are in the court process and that some owners may be forced to make repairs while other homes may eventually be torn down like this one.
Evans says she’s just glad it’s over. “It’s not where you live but how you live and you don’t have to live among eye sores like that,” she said.