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This property is condemned! How does that work?


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Condemnation of property gets the blood pumping. The signs posted on this dilapidated trailer by the City of Branson indicate that it is “condemned,” but most of us don’t understand exactly what this means.

Condemnation has two meanings for local governments and property owners:

  • to describe the process by which a government forcibly takes ownership of private property for a governmental purpose, such as for widening a street under the power of eminent domain, with the government required to fairly compensate the owner.
  • to indicate that a structure is not habitable or usable for a lawful purpose.

The condemnation sign on the dilapidated trailer has to do with the City of Branson’s determination that the trailer does not comply with the City’s housing code. This post is not about condemnation for eminent domain. But under either type of condemnation, the property owner has a right to due process.

The Ozarks countryside and its towns are full of commercial buildings and houses that have not been maintained. Often, the aging of the structures has resulted in fatigue: foundations tilt, roofs sag and leak. Then windows are broken.  Sometimes the owner, due to age, death or change in financial fortunes, cannot repair or remove the structure.

Local governments have the power to adopt ordinances requiring demolition or repair of buildings because dilapidated buildings have been determined by the Missouri legislature to adversely affect public health and safety.

Due process requires that these ordinances contain provisions to give notice to the owners of the alleged violation of a specific regulation and an opportunity for a hearing before a final determination is made that there is indeed a public health or safety violation.

These ordinances often require the property owner to make repairs or remove the structure if a violation is determined to exist. In addition, a certificate of occupancy for the property may be revoked, requiring utility providers to refuse to provide gas, water or electric service. If the property owner does not do so, the governmental authority  can repair or demolish and remove the structure and give the owner a bill for the work.

If the owner doesn’t promptly pay the bill, the government’s expense is put in the form of a “special tax bill,” which is added to the regular property tax for the property.

Local governments are often hesitant to authorize demolition, often doing nothing except in response to complaints. When complaints are received, the property owner is usually given ample time to remedy the situation. Only as a last resort will a unit of local government spend taxpayer dollars to demolish a private building.

This process was examined by the Missouri Court of Appeals in Village of Blodgett v Rhymer, decided March 25, 2009. The Village had notified Rhymer that an abandoned church building owned by Rhymer violated the Village’s ordinance. Rhymer hired a company to tear down the old building, but the company left an open basement and a pile of debris. The Village’s attorney sent Rhymer another letter giving Rhymer 10 days to clean up the mess and fill the hole.

Rhymer asked for a meeting with the Village trustees and asked if he could remedy the safety problem by putting up a fence around the hole. A few days after this meeting, the Village attorney sent Rhymer another letter stating that the Village was going to spend public money to remedy the unsafe situation and assess Rhymer with the cost. Six weeks later the Village attorney sent Rhymer another letter stating that the Village was now going to proceed.

The Village then hired a contractor to remove and dispose of the debris and fill the hole. Then the Village asked for reimbursement in 10 days. When Rhymer did not pay up, the Village sued Rhymer for the amount spent, obtained a judgment against Rhymer and asked the sheriff to sell the property at public auction, so that the Village would get repaid for making the property safe.

Rhymer appealed, claiming that the Village didn’t follow its own ordinances, which require notice of the violation, a hearing and a determination that a condition exists which requires remediation.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Rhymer, stating that the series of letters from the Village attorney did not provide the notice required by the ordinances and that the appearance of Rhymer at the Village trustees meeting was not the hearing described in the ordinances. Nor did the Village properly make a finding that the condition on Rhymer’s property was “an immediate danger to the health, safety or welfare of the public,” which was a prerequisite to the Village’s right to abate the nuisance.

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment against Rhymer, saying, “Once the Village decided to enact ordinances to issue and inform Appellant it would be enforcing them, it could not ignore the notice and hearing provisions within those ordinances and proceed in a different manner.”

Often public officials and citizens rather casually brand other citizens as flagrant violators. But in this case, the appeals court determined that the Village and its attorney failed to follow the Village’s ordinances and never properly made their case against Rhymer.

Rhymer perhaps didn’t comply with the ordinances for maintaining the property, but the Village failed to follow the proper procedures for determining the existence of Rhymer’s violation, attempting to deprive Rhymer of property–money, in this case–without due process.

For the trailer in the photograph, the City of Branson has posted a notice of violation on the trailer, with information about the procedure for a hearing , indicating that the City understands that its property owners are entitled to due process before they are deprived of their property.

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

5 responses »

  1. Article writing iss allso a fun, if you be acquainted
    with then you can wrie otherwise it iss difficult to write.

    Reply
  2. You need to contact me ASAP!! Have the biggest, strongest case- that is going to FINALLY change and update MO law

    Reply
    • Ronald Paul Barrett

      Here in mid-Mo we have had old brick buildings fall down (Ref. Clinton-one death, Pleasant Hill, Lexington, Holden, etc.). There seems to be no general criteria on or about downtown brick buildings structural integrity. There also seems to be no place in the “Public Safety” world that addresses “old brick buildings.” There is no Civil Engineering standards or metric for evaluation(s) either. Can you help me. I am a Material Field Test Engineer (mostly do aerospace) and hold three plate-related Utility patents:So yes I look for valid metric. Know of any? Thank you, Ron Barrett, USAF Ret navigator Reference: http://www.ronbarrett.com

    • Cassie Ganier

      If this statement is accurate- >> “I’m a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.” … and add environmental issues OF/IN real estate, construction and local government then I may have found “the one” – a property owned by Australians, but has been rented and “claimed management” by the shadiest, most thieving, joke of a business with proven record of ONLY illegal activities, theft, neglect= resulting in THE DEATH of tenants, while stealing from owners who terminated them! Owners have to sock hundreds of thousands into their property (usually foundation and roof seem to be a constant of repairs) – well – City has no health code for external- so I was leased AT FULL PRICE a prior meth lab = 2 labs!!! One in garage and one in basement- that management company came out and found, had them remove/clean it and demanded removal of an RV on the property that was being lived in…(this is said to be the only time management and NOT maintenance crew- was ever on the property since taking it over= until recently when came out to remove all the meth lab equipment that had been left for a good 3-4 years) 4 studios attached to a house= basement meth lab is entire underneath portion of MY HOUSE, and garage is connected to my living room and dining, and separate from basement yet connects. I’m not crawling in the death trap to see where that compartment goes. One of the prior tenants said it was a trap door to escape and connect the two meth labs. which can see… if management was not so desperate to clean up meth lab “Crap” they left for years, then I would not have caught on to the ONLY flippin law MO does have for tenants= the disclosure. Completely mold riddled, along with parasites and bugs. THEN they flooded the place two years ago and did nothing – but take rent money. WHY I paid rent all this time, idk- I was in a coma, couldn’t think, well- let us just say the entire year of 2017 went by and I do not recall it. It did not happen in my life- I can think back at events… but I was in a toxic coma. A friend finally pulled me out into the yard for safety – I laid there for weeks- slowly gaining any thinking abilities. OK- so the property is genociding the entire community. what can I do? I’ve been working with EPA, DNR, CDC, CDHSS and every possible department available… but NO ONE WILL come to the property and condemn it. Lock it up BOARD UP “the chemical warfare agent box” in the middle of a community. Management company sneaks in and scrapes mold off asbestos= making air born= made community ill. No one could figure out what was going on… pets were put down (as the airborne spores settled into their skin creating horrible fits, one was just put down with cancer, others have seizures) = I spoke at City Council as directed and basically spit on ALL departments as they contacted the management company and met at the property to plan the ripping off of the exterior. WITHOUT ONE AGENCY THAT WAS TO BE PRESENT!! And they have entered multiple times to flood the building and make it collapse into the neighborhood!! I am running out of ways to stop the genocide of a community. That house also has to be preserved to get the needed samples of what my body and others around property- toxins, gases, etc – what bodies exposed to for treatment and any chance of life.

    • Cassie, you do not attract attorneys to help you by ranting on the internet. I have not had much luck assisting people who are indiscreet, regardless of the outrageousness of those who persecute them. If you want to hire a lawyer, you need to make an appointment and bring in documents that support your story. There probably are lawyers who take toxic tort cases on a contingent fee basis, but I’m not one of them.

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