Bead Shop Owner Claims City Tore Down Her Houses Without Notice

Another reason for checking Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Reports on a regular basis: You might find your home listed on it. Two years ago today, the city’s neighborhood protection department took out demo permits on the houses at 1315 and 1317 Shepherd Dr. at the southeastern tip of Cottage Grove, listing them as dangerous buildings; they showed up on Swamplot the next day. But in a lawsuit filed this week, Bellaire Bead Shop owner Katie Koenig claims she was never informed about the impending demolition of her 2 houses, where she stored her bead inventory. Koenig says she only discovered the houses had been torn down when she tried to visit them sometime around January 8th, 2010; she also claims she was injured on the property after tripping over fencepost stumps left after city crews came back later and partially removed a 6-ft. privacy fence she had had built surrounding the houses.


Koenig indicates she had paid off a $70,000 lien on the property in 2005, but hadn’t been informed of any subsequent liens or condemnation notices. The lawsuit, Koenig’s filing claims, was a last resort after “many attempts at alternative dispute resolution.”

Map: LoopNet

33 Comment

  • I hope she wins and wins big (even though as a tax payer I know that partially comes out of my pocket).

  • Absentee owners… I can’t think of anything nice to say about them.

  • It’ll be funny to watch who comes out of the woodwork to voice their blind concern and support for a landowner (to call her a homeowner is not accurate) who kept their property in such a state that the City was forced to demolish it at the expense of taxpayers. And, of course she tripped!

  • If she can produce current insurance policies on the properties prior to 2010, the case is half-won.

  • Even the worst of the worst slum lord absentee land owner is entitled to notice. I am all for dropping the hammer on people who blight up the neighborhood, but the City should never screw up providing notice.

  • hey City of Houston neighborhood protection demolition crews: if you’re looking for some more stuff to demolish, check out the apartment complex at the NW corner of White Oak Drive and Watson.

  • Just because she says she never got notice doesn’t make it so. She probably got notice by certified mail and never claimed the mail.

  • UG: And just screw all the lower income people that live there and call that complex home, right? “it’s ugly, demo it”.
    Are you going to provide housing for everyone that would be displaced? Sure a brand new nice class-A building would be great, but do you think the people living there could afford it?
    Disclosure: I think I know what property you’re talking about and I know the guy that just bought it. He closed a month or so and has been pouring a lot of his own money out of his own pocket to improve the property. He just about lives there to make sure things are moving along.
    What have you done similar to improve the neighborhood UG?

  • OK, I’m just throwing this out there. I have known of two people that had “dangerous buildings” demolished and both of those folks had an “order” placed on record with the county clerk by the City of Houston Building & Standards Commission. Not HCAD, but the real property records on Stan Stanart’s site.

    Neither of her two properties as listed with the Harris County Clerk’s office has such an “order”, in 2010 or ever.

    According to the HCAD record for the vacant properties, back taxes are owed AND the tax notices were returned as undeliverable. So……apparently her attorney is not aware that her contact information is invalid.

    Now, maybe she didn’t get the mailed notices if there were any but since there is no “order” placed on her ‘real property’ record by City of Houston Building Standards Commission, it would suggest to me that perhaps standard operating procedures were not followed at all.

    Still, she does owe taxes and it is her responsibility to notify the county of any address change.

  • Trey: If she didn’t pick it up, then no, she didn’t get notice. In fact, if that’s the only way they tried to notify her and she never picked it up then we can be guaranteed she *didn’t* get notified.
    If she’s anything like a lot of people, certified mail is a terrible way to reach someone. I hate when people send me certified mail. 95% of the time I don’t get it. I’m not just sitting at home when the delivery person comes by, so you’re forcing me to go to the post office within a specific period of time (or its sent back) and sit there in line. No thanks.
    If your going to do something as big as knocking down someones personal property you damn well better make 100% sure they are properly served. There are companies that will verify someone has been served in person.

  • Wonder what happened to all the beads? They just roll away during the demo? Must’ve been millions of ’em, to judge by the lot size.

  • Are we all pretending the reason people flip low cost housing is to make the world a better place? Surely these models of Christian behavior would never profit from their good deeds. I mean, it only makes sense that all profits are donated back to the community, set up in trust funds for the residents, college funds for their children, and anything else donated to orphans? I am pretty tired of the general attitude that unless I buy the flophouse I am entitled to no opinion about it, unless I am flipping low cost houses, I am doing nothing for my community, and unless I am trying to squeeze every last penny I can out of this city, I should move to The Woodlands.

  • I agree with you Old School but… if the City dropped the letter in the mail, she has notice. The presumption is that once it hits the mailbox, it ends up in her hands. If abstentee owner chooses not to collect, open or read the mail, that’s absentee owner’s bad!

  • mel: Have you ever gone on vacation for over 2 weeks? I have. You only need to be gone for a few weeks to get a notice, and have it sent back.
    Sorry, but that shouldn’t be sufficient to knock someones house down.

  • mel: I never claimed, and never would claim, that the property was bought and fixed out of some noble act of community service. It was bought and (will be) fixed to have a better running property. The side effect to that effort is profit for the owner, better living situation for the tenants, and a better property for the community. All good things, no?
    And I’m not sure what your definition of a ‘flip’ is but most people I know personally that buy multifamily properties but them for the long haul. I’ve kept most of mine and only sell if I need to in order to buy another (but would never sell any if I didn’t have to — sadly with lending today you don’t have many options. Buying a property and plowing in cash to improve is a capital intensive undertaking). Other people I know that have sold are generally selling off ones they’ve had many years where there is enough equity to pull out and do the same again.

  • Au contraire Mel……At least once every 2-3 months I get mail in my box that is addressed to someone with the same number as mine but 4 streets over.

    Likewise, mail that is on my same street but in a different block.

    So, I either (a) write on it ‘delivered to wrong address’ and put it back out to be picked up or (b) hand deliver to the correct address.

    Some folks might just throw it away.

  • First, don’t back down now Cody! You challenged UG to demonstrate that he/she has ever done as selfless an act as the current owner of the White Oak flophouse.

    Second, I have never been on a two week vacation. How nice for you!

    Third, notice is notice. Whether you are sunning yourself in Maui or simply refuse to open your mail, you get notice as soon as it gets dropped in the mailbox.

  • @ Cody – I know that certified mail is a pain in the patoot to claim unless it happens to be delivered to someplace that has someone there all day, but it is also the method of notice that’s called for by various statutes. Since certified mail generally means that something needs to be taken care of, ya might as well gut it up and stand in line at the post office, or have your mail sent some place that’s attended. My experience is that you want to hear good news, and bad news only gets worse.

  • I heard the beads rolled towards the forklift driver, who proceeded to dance, take off his shirt, and cheer for more.

  • Pyewacket, I am not sure what you are disagreeing with. Notice is given as soon as it hits the mailbox. There is a presumption under the law that a properly addressed letter reaches its recipient.

  • Mel, if I had thrown away that last jury summons that landed in my mailbox but was addressed to someone four streets over, would they have been “notified”?

    I don’t think so.

    Granted, the would be juror could reschedule but not all notifications are that flexible.

    I’m just offering explanations that’s all. And, the fact that something is not quite right about her ‘real property’ records on the county clerk’s web site.

    As stated, her contact information was not valid for last year so the county may have their case right there but as Hellsing said earlier, if she has good insurance records, maybe the county will have to try harder.

    Ever since a car payment I mailed back in the 80s never made it to the bank, I have never presumed that a properly addressed letter would reach the right party….

  • Pyewacket, we all have these experiences. However, it is not the norm. I am telling you that once the City placed the notice in the mail (which, presumably it did in the ordinary course of business), the absentee owner had notice. If she takes the position that she did not receive notice, she will file a verified affirmative defense stating that to be the case, under oath. The City will then go to its file and pull out a copy of the letter it sent, or go to its database and pull up a record of having sent it. If the City cannot establish that it was sent, either by business practice or by copy of the document, then she did not receive notice. However, once the City comes forward with a copy of a letter or a record establishing it sent the letter AND the letter was sent to the address on file AND was sent timely, etc., then the presumption kicks in and she has to actually prove that she did not receive it. We as a society have to assume that when something is placed in the mail, that it is received. Otherwise deadbeat absentee owners could continue to blight neighborhoods without recourse, telling the City each time– oops, I was sunning myself in Maui, I just didn’t have time to read your little letter. Fiddle-dee-dee.

  • Whoever the city inspector was obviously doesn’t know the difference between a house used for storage and a house used as a habitat. Obviously they couldn’t have been in too bad a shape or she wouldn’t have been using them to store her inventory. Sounds like she made an enemy at City Hall. Easy to do these days. The taxpayers will pay for this like they will pay for some of the other “shenanigans” at City Hall including 1717 Bissonnet. Eventually the taxpayers will get the message and stop voting for the same old sleazeballs over and over and over again.

  • Ok, just jumping in here….but here’s my question. I see what cody calls the “prius patrol” around my neighborhood several times a week pasting little red tags all over projects they don’t like for one reason or another. If the city neighborhood protection wants to demolish a building, wouldn’t they also probably put up some kind of notice tag on the front door of said property? My line of thought here is that even if the mailed notice was undeliverable, there should have been a notice posted on the property. And if there wasn’t, maybe the city should start.

  • It’s complete BS that simply placing something in the mail is proof someone was “noticed”. There is no such presumption under the law.

  • All the houses I’ve seen demolished by the City had several red tags on them, some on every door and window. Google maps still has the street view pictures of these houses. There was a decent fence around them, but the houses are in bad shape, and overgrown with vines and such.,+Houston,+TX&hl=en&ll=29.773078,-95.409289&spn=0.003111,0.004471&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=64.409204,146.513672&vpsrc=6&hnear=1315+Shepherd+Dr,+Houston,+Texas+77007&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=29.773264,-95.409521&panoid=14x3BjKclbUwIsY8Jk0aRQ&cbp=12,268.69,,0,-1.94

  • James: And even if that was considered notice for most cases, you’d think the bar would be set a bit higher before knocking down someone’s house.
    If you want to destroy someone’s personal property using the power of the state you better make 100% sure they’re notified.
    The bigger issues is many in the government view personal property, and wealth, as theirs. We are just allowed to keep whatever they think we should keep. So the idea of knocking down someone’s personal property because it doesn’t fit the states standards does not surprise me all that much

  • Not only does the property owner no longer have a house, but they now have a lien on the property, filed by the city, for the cost of the demolition. I used to work in the Mayor’s office and dealt with Neighborhood Protection on a regular basis. There are THOUSANDS of properties where the property has become derelict and the owner can’t be found, won’t respond, etc. I can tell you that this is not an isolated occurrence, and that the city is pretty well protected by state and case law in situations like this. Since the backlog of properties on the dangerous buildings list is much larger than the resources for demolition, properties sit for years, and owners don’t really believe that their property will be torn down, until, well, the property is torn down. In this case, I suspect that a search of the records as to what the real story is will probably not paint the property owner in a very flattering light. The only way to stop this from happening is to find your favorite rabid property rights legislator and try to get the laws changed in Austin.

  • Well, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, guys. Anyway, I read the ordinance and it looks like the city doesn’t have to mail you notice. It appears that the city posts notice on the property itself. That of course proves troublesome for absentee owners who can’t be bothered to do upkeep or even visit their properties. Perhaps the city should hire Scotland Yard to research each owner, serve each such owner, by hand, with an engraved notice fashioned from titanium and then send a limo to be sure they are able to attend the hearing so the absentee owner can justify the blight they have visited upon the city. You libertarian types won’t mind your taxes going up 300% to cover the cost of notifying property owners that they have violated city ordinance.

  • Mel – If you think that libertarians want the government to spare no expense to notify owners before they demolish their property then you dont know much about libertarians. Also, i think most people here are expressing views about what they think is moral or just and not what is legal. There is a big difference between right/wrong and what is legal. With that being said i think the law is currently on the side of the property owner – City of Dallas v. Stewart

  • Callaway, if you think I think libertarians wish to spare no expense in notifying derelict absentee owners that they are in violation of the city ordinance, you missed the snark in my post. And, of course the law is on the side of the property owner, who said it wasn’t? That is why the property owner is entitled to notice.

  • In each of the two demolition hearings I attended, Neighborhood Protection officers had person to person contact with the property owners.

    Not saying this always happens. But, if NP did contact the owner, they should have plenty of proof. NP takes plenty of photos to support their claim of ‘dangerous’. At least they did in the two cases in my neighborhood.

    And, the placing of a notice on the property is piss poor notification in my opinion. I personally saw the ‘notice’ on the ground at one property and it was exposed to the elements. About 10 pages of legal document stapled together in the corner and not even in an envelope. Then, taped to the door. Eventually the tape failed, document fell to the ground and I doubt the owner (when he found it) could even read half of it. Never mind, he already knew what it was, the “notification” was just a formality as he was completely aware of what was going to take place.

    I am not defending the actions of the Shepherd property owner. I just don’t think that the city is always right. COH is pretty much self serving regardless of who the mayor is.

    What is on the 1315-17 Shepherd spot currently?

  • I am from Louisville,Kentucky and own a piece of property that was were remodeling g and while out of state we received a call stating that a wrecking ball was backed into the driveway and within 1/12 hours it was totally demolished and hauled away in dump tducks. We were never notified of anything and have been given so much run around by metro government it is unbelievable and were just recently told that papers had been sent to the wrong address. I went downtown and all I heard was that they cannot do that. It most certainly hasn’t solved the problem.