Comment of the Day: Making the Wheels Squeak

COMMENT OF THE DAY: MAKING THE WHEELS SQUEAK Distributing Red Tags“. . . It sounds like a total douche move, and I guess it is, but if the property really is blighted, you can use the City to coerce them to sell. Keep reporting the property to 311. Code violations are largely complaint based in Houston. so if people make a stink, the inspectors will be out there issuing red tags. Are there crimes occurring on the property? Report them to HPD and the Harris County DA. Graffiti? Report it. Get neighbors in on the complaints, too — the more the better. Keep at it. Eventually it’ll be such a pain in the ass for the owners to keep the property that they’ll be eager to sell. Just be forewarned, it can be a long process. We were at it for over half a decade with a slum lord who owned most of a crimeridden, gang-infested, horrifically blighted condo complex. It wasn’t until someone found evidence of possible fraud on the condo HOA’s books — and he was looking at possible jail time — that he gave it up. I know people will react angrily to what I’m saying here. It’s a really horrible thing to do — I admit that. But Texas Law doesn’t give us many other alternatives. And when it’s real blight — dragging down whole neighborhoods, costing the City tons of money and ruining our quality of life — most neighbors would argue that it’s worth it.” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day: Prying Dilapidated Properties from Shy Owners] Illustration: Lulu

9 Comment

  • Gee, what comes to mind as I read this is the “Dead Animal House” in the topic below.

  • The problem with 311 is that if there has already been an incident reported, they don’t report it again, they just give you the old incident number. You MUST come up with something new.

    The quality of the 311 system has really deteriorated in the past couple of years.

  • The other problem with 311, and what’s killing it, is abuse. It’s not being used how it should. People flood 311 with small dumb things like a little sicker on the back of a stop sign. Just check out the see-click-report (or whatever it is) website to see some comically petty examples.. Also, the city is encouraging tenants to use 311 as a sort of ‘maintenance request hotline’.
    So when faced with real issues, the signal is lost in the noise.

  • As someone living in a neighborhood with a lot of vacant, blighted properties, I don’t think it is a dick move to report blighted properties to 311. There are scores of properties in the Northside, and hundreds in 5th ward that are falling apart and scary, and absentee landlords should be paying tickets until they start maintaining it or sell it to someone who may.

    I don’t think it justified to 311 properties that are owner occupied by seniors who can’t take well of it, and have mixed feelings about rental properties where the landlords are not taking care of things, but everyone should be reporting vacant blighted things to 311, even though it may take lifetimes for any change to result from it.

  • I agree that owners of unsightly properties should suffer consequences but is this really right? In a moral sense? The owner who has invested money and time into buying this property gets the short end of the stick. Even if it’s not fair, what about taking that complaint time and cleaning it up yourselves? If the owner won’t take responsibility, what’s keeping neighbors from doing the right thing?

  • Fannie: In some cases, neighbors DO clean up properties. A weeded lot is a simple fix – just get some weed eaters and lawn mowers and go to work. Some owners might consider this trespassing, but if they’re absentees, chances are they’d never find out.
    A dangerous, abandoned building isn’t as easy. It would require a permit to legally demolish, and the owner has to sign off on that. And besides, it could be dangerous just to go inside. A dangerous building that is occupied is even harder to deal with. A lot of the time you can’t even go onto the property without risking your life. (Fortunately, these are the ones the City tries to go after first and most often).

  • “If the owner won’t take responsibility, what’s keeping neighbors from doing the right thing?”
    hahaha, that’s awesome. Let me tell you a story of doing just that: We own 3 fourplexes, all together on W. Main. there was a fourth in the middle of ours that we didn’t own and we couldn’t seem to get the owner to sell. Since it was empty and boarded up, people would dump trash there all the time. Because that made our properties look bad (and harder to rent), I’d often take a truck load of dumped tires or couches that people illegally dumped and haul them off to the dump or to one of my properties dumpsters. One week I was cleaning it up and since heavy trash was just a few days away I decided that rather than haul the trash off to one of my dumpsters (which were always full from cleaning this place up) I’d move the trash to the back of the property, then move it BACK out to the front yard the day before heavy pickup. Keep in mind this was NOT my property. Just a property near mine I was trying to keep looking 1/2 way decent (and FYI, calling 311 would just result in yellow signs and red tags, which doesn’t make the shit go away)
    So I loaded up the nasty crap from the front yard into my truck, drove to the back of the property to unload it. The neighbors behind the property quickly called the cops on me for illegally dumping, even when I explained I was moving the trash (which wasn’t even mine) from the front of the back for a few days just to keep the front clean before moving it back to the front yard again for heavy trash day.
    Later, once I bought this property and started to really clean it up myself (it’s quite nice now FYI), those same motherf’ers called the mayors office because the back yard had construction trash UNDER A TARP. The full force of the city came down on me. Even though after buying we had totally fixed up this ugly blighted boarded up graffiti building (new windows, new paint, gutted exterior to code, new landscaping, etc.) and made it 100x better than it was. AND even though I gave them all my number so they could call if they had any issues, they still decided to be dicks.
    Moral of the story: The 311 armchair warriors will never clean up a property. You’re lucky if they won’t bitch, cry, complain, and call their connections in the city while YOU try to clean up the property.
    The people behind the fence of the fourplexes on the 1800 block of W. Main know who they are and I hope they’re swamplot readers.

  • Cody: Sorry to hear it was such a nightmare, and I’m sorry you were hit with those complaints when you were trying to do the right thing. But it’s understandable that it happened. You inherited the site’s old fleas. Neighbors probably didn’t know it was under new (much better) ownership. They just saw garbage on the site and reported it.
    I strongly recommend going to the neighbors first, before starting to rearrange garbage or anything else on a site. Go to the HOA or Civic Club meeting or, if there is none, get in touch with the affected neighbors directly. Tell them exactly what you’re doing. Tell them as soon as you close on buying it. Build a good rapport with them and earn their trust. 311 calls won’t be nearly as big an issue. (Keep in mind: even a loose, half-hearted Civic Club with no architectural guidelines, meetings twice a year, and optional dues can use 311 to go after a property. Don’t assume that since they don’t have architectural controls or a management company, there’s no reason to meet with them.)

  • Cody–You may be right about the 311 folks. You certainly went beyond the call of duty, though and at the end of the day that’s what counts. You did the right thing and you have the satisfaction of knowing that even if they gave you a hard time. What goes around, comes around, in this life or the next.