Abandoned homes problem in East Newnan
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Coweta County has ordinances regarding overgrown properties and falling-down houses, but taking care of them is a process.
For the most part, Coweta’s ordinances are enforced on a complaints-only basis. If county authorities are not receiving formal complaints about something, it’s likely not on the radar of the code enforcement or building departments.
For the Coweta County Building Department or Health Department to take action on an unsafe structure, a formal complaint must be filed by at least five residents of the unincorporated county.
However, enforcing the county’s ordinance regarding plant growth on developed properties requires only one complaint.
The rank growth ordinance prohibits the overgrowth of plants and limits grass and weeds to 12 inches in the yard area of a developed property. A developed property is defined as a residential property in a platted subdivision, or any property intended for anything other than residential or agricultural use – i.e. commercial or industrial use.
The ordinance also prohibits the accumulation or presence of any rubbish, trash, refuse, litter, unsightly materials or abandoned vehicles on any property, whether developed or undeveloped.
Code enforcement can notify the property owner and ask that the situation be rectified. According to the ordinance, if the property owner doesn’t request a hearing or begin cleaning the property, the enforcement officer shall cause the condition to be remedied by the county at the expense of the property owner.
In most cases, the county has contracted landscaping companies to perform cleanup work, and then placed liens on the properties to cover cost.
There is no provision for the county to clean up overgrown properties outside of subdivisions.
However, code enforcement can issue citations for rural property that is considered a public health hazard and general nuisance. This refers to the accumulation of weeds, trash, junk, filth, standing water and any other unsanitary or unsafe condition which renders the property unsafe, unsanitary, dangerous or detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of … those individuals residing on the property or in the general vicinity of the property.
“Most people refer to these type issues as ‘eyesores,’” said Patricia Palmer, Coweta director of community and human relations. “But the ordinance requires conditions to pose a health or safety hazard to the neighboring citizens or to our public safety employees that might enter the property.”
Code enforcement officials will work with the responsible party to rectify violations. If that fails, a citation can be issued though Coweta Magistrate Court, ordering the property owner to clean. If the owner doesn’t follow through on the court order, however, there isn’t much more that can be done.
“Coweta County does not clean up rural properties located outside subdivisions at any time,” Palmer said.
As for unsafe structures, depending on the potential hazard, the county can require owners to demolish the property.
An unsafe structure is defined as one that is “unfit for human habitation or for commercial, industrial or business use.”
An investigation into whether a structure is unsafe can be made upon the request of five residents of the unincorporated area, any public authority, or by the building official on his own prerogative.
The property owners have the right to file an answer or appear before the county commissioners.
The next step depends on whether fixing up the building is cost-effective. If the repair would cost more than half the value the building would have once it is repaired, the county can require the property owners to demolish the building.
If repairs can be done at a reasonable cost, the owner can choose to make repairs or vacate.
Overgrown and/or dilapidated houses are a growing problem in the area of East Newnan.
Three properties are currently noted as overgrown and possibly unsafe. One such property is owned by the county, according to Coweta tax records.
41 East Haynes St. was seized in 2006 for unpaid property taxes. However, the county has not foreclosed on the right of redemption and therefore cannot take possession of the property.
"Our name on a property via a tax sale does not give us the 'right of entry,’ or the ability to take action on our own. Legally, the prior listed owners retain that right,” Palmer said. "Because we do not have the right to clean up these properties, they have to go through the same process – regardless of the tax sale status.”
Brandee Del-Rosario and her family live across the street from another overgrown house in East Newnan.
“It needs to go,” she said of the house. “I’d love to have it gone.”
Del-Rosario said she knows East Newnan isn’t the best neighborhood. But the house across from her is terrible.
“I think it’s not healthy,” she said.
Patsy Addison, who lives near another abandoned house, said she has killed five snakes in the past month. “It’s terrible, and I don’t know what to do,” she said.
“People have let so many of these places go. Whoever’s got them, they need to be made to come in here and knock them down,” Addison said.
“I just don’t know what to do. I feel helpless.”