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Condemned sites in Everett still active

Red tagged, but not always vacated

Condemned properties in Everett range from everyday houses to a mansion, as evidenced from the Tribune visiting every property on the city’s list in October. A reporter observed that many properties had people inside who by law shouldn’t be there. After red tagging, code enforcement does occasional checks.

EVERETT — The city is home to 34 condemned buildings.
Some of the condemned structures are boarded up and shuttered, with notices posted to keep out. At some, bold stenciled letters warn against entry and threaten trespassers with penalties.
But at others, there are no notices, no barred doors: people pull off the notices and life goes on as usual, despite the city’s determination that staying is dangerous and illegal.
Like much police work, taking action on condemned structures is often done only in response to calls, according to city officials.
Calls come in from outside sources like neighbors and tenants as well as from within the city’s departments “but primarily we are reactive,” said assistant city attorney Katie Rathbun.
“Code enforcement reviews a condemnation and considers whether to conduct additional enforcement and then coordinates with the City’s legal department,” said city spokeswoman Kari Goepfert in an email.
Once the order is issued, the responsibility falls mainly on owners, whether they are individuals or banks, to keep people out during the months or years a condemnation may last. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they fail.
Often, they have a vested interest in not vacating.
The most prominent of the condemned buildings that should, according to the city, be empty, is the Wetmore Security Building. The 2701 Wetmore Ave. property is 33,000 square feet and boasts a mix of residential and business uses. It sits just across from the Everett Performing Arts Center and a block away from pop-culture outpost Funko.
It was condemned 14 months ago. Dozens of pages of documents describe unsafe living conditions and illegal alterations. Yet it’s still occupied.
In a July interview, city building official Tony Lee said the city was not officially aware of any tenants on the site.
At a duplex on Colby Avenue, tenants also seemed to still be in residence, from a Tribune visit in October. Lights twinkled in the window of the bottom unit. Fresh cigarette butts filled an ashtray outside the front door. Upstairs, recently expired milk cartons filled the recycle bin. The entire property was listed as condemned by the city in April, though, as a “dangerous structure.”
A dog barked from behind a secure fence at a Cady Road home condemned June 2017.
It is not only poorer neighborhoods or certain areas of town blighted by dangerous and sometimes unsightly condemned properties. The 34 buildings on the list span several neighborhoods and range from a Glenwood Avenue mansion to a single unit in a Holly Drive apartment complex.
On Olympic Drive a bottle-littered yard fronts a house with “No Trespassing” stamped on it, right next door to a Monte Cristo Award winner.
While in some cases it is homeowners or established tenants illegally dwelling in condemned properties, in others it is squatters.
At a run down house on Lombard Avenue, three adults were exiting the boarded up home one weekday afternoon. A man introduced himself, saying he was a potential buyer checking out the property. With no realtor present and the property unlawful to enter, his story was suspicious. The man and his two companions left hastily.
A contractor working next door walked over, concerned. He checked the property and found the back sliding door had been broken in. The self-described would be buyer returned minutes later with a warning to watch out for drug paraphernalia that’s inside. The contractor believed the man had returned to take belongings from the condemned house. A confrontation ensued, the contractor calling out the man for squatting before the man again beat a hasty retreat.
On Holly Drive, a neighbor reported five or six people and their dogs had been in and out of the condemned property next door to him, but as of mid-October the house had recently, blessedly, gone quiet.
While camping in an abandoned house is illegal, the city has determined the buildings are unsafe for anyone: tenant, owner or squatter. Squatting can exacerbate the problems: People break into homes, compromising doors and windows, sometimes leaving their unsanitary trash or drug paraphernalia behind. One abandoned 75th Street SE property reeked with foul odors, a decaying rat in the front yard, old plywood boards and trash adding to the stench.
“Code enforcement officers are familiar with condemned properties in their assigned neighborhoods (and) pay attention to the condition of those structures while doing other inspections in the neighborhood, and seek to periodically review the current list of those properties,” Goepfert said.
The code enforcement team contains six members — and is short one person, a vacancy Goepfert said the city hopes to fill soon.
“The condemnation comes, for the most part, when people fail to correct actions we’ve given” them to correct, Lee, the building official, said in an October interview. Rathbun, the attorney, said “we want the owner to fix the problems first, to avoid condemnation.”
If those efforts fail, and a building is condemned, the city can take some enforcement action if it becomes aware problems have cropped up. In some cases, that includes boarding up a structure.
Code enforcement officers “will continue enforcement efforts until the structure becomes vacant and secure. This includes contacting owners when possible, gaining a hearing examiner order that requires the owner to vacate and secure the property, and then performing emergency boarding if needed,” Goepfert said in an email.
The city can also opt to have unlawful residents served with an abatement warrant by a judge.
Goepfert said neighbors are encouraged to call the police if a condemnation order is violated.


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