A few months ago, I tore down the house next door. Okay, I didn’t do it myself, I had someone else do it via the county health department’s regulations.
When my husband and I found our dream cottage last year – a 1930’s Spanish bungalow fixer upper on 2+ acres with a pond and barn – there was on only one tiny problem…
The house next door.
It, too was an antique. A 1939 tar paper shack turned sometimes hang out for meth users. The roof was caving in (where there still was a roof), cats of all colors were crawling in and out of it, and god knows what else (I tried not to think about it).
When we bought our house, tearing that sucker down became my mission.
I had been told that it was “scheduled for demolition” and “condemned” by the county before we bought our place, so I felt confident that it would be gone in no time.
Only after buying our place and getting half way through our renovations did I learn that those things meant absolutely nothing in reality.
The house had been “condemned” multiple times over the last decade, and yet there it still stood. My new neighbors laughed when I told them I expected it to be raised “any day now”, since the orange notices posted on the door said so.
They had given up many years ago on trying to get rid of the place. They now accepted that this was a part of their neighborhood, and simply looked the other way in defeat. They told me that even our local newspaper had done a story on it, using it as the photographic example of blight that the county was supposedly taking a stand against.
That story had run over three years ago.
The county had several of these types of properties “scheduled for remediation”, but they continued to make excuses for not doing their job. They were “too busy”, “short staffed”, and “cash strapped”.
But they had never seen the likes of me, (aka an EXTREMELY determined person, almost to a fault).
For each excuse they made, I crafted a better reason for them to do what I wanted.
“You say you’re too busy, but every time I come into the office (which was every morning), I’m taking up your time…so imagine how much more time you’ll have once this place gets torn down. The sooner the better for both of us, don’t you think?”
I’ll admit, I went semi-full jugular a few times, when my patience wore thin… a girl can only live next door to a meth house for so long, after all…
Most times I’d take the professional route, though, waltzing in with highlighted copies of the county’s own regulations stating that they were required to set aside funds for remediation of such properties, and say something like: “I just don’t understand how it’s possible you don’t have money to do this, since our regulations say that you must. What are you spending the money on instead?” And then, in a very non-threatening yet serious tone” “If you are too short staffed to do what this office is set up to do, what’s the point of even having taxpayers pay for such an office in the first place?”
Yeah, I was pretty hard-core. But to me, that’s what it’s like to go all out for something you really want. You go out there, shake it up, move beyond your comfort zone and see what happens.
I took it upon myself to get demolition estimates from local contractors showing the ballpark costs of such a remediation just to prove “how affordable it actually was, considering the potential liability they were assuming by not doing anything”.
I called them every time something shady was going on at the property, and reminded them that if anything were to happen to my property or well being, I would be suing them for neglectful duty to abate a human health hazard (their terminology) which would cost at least ten times the remediation of the place, if not more.
I kept a log of contacts and conversations and told them I had an attorney advising me (which I did).
This went on for months.
There were days when I was ready to give up, because it was so obvious that they were set in their lazy, bureaucratic ways. But I had promised myself I would make this happen, so it just wasn’t possible.
I trusted that I would find a way.
Then, after six months of this, I found out that despite their long list of properties needing to be demolished, (and their long list of excuses) they hadn’t taken care of any for over 20 years… I quickly realized that that meant that none of the current staff had any experience doing something like this. Ever.
They LITERALLY had no idea how to start the process – – legally or logistically. So every time I came in to harass them to take care of this place, I was reminding them that they didn’t have a clue. Only they wouldn’t tell me this, so I didn’t know what the problem was.
Needless to say I became their strategic advisor for the project, by default. I helped them get the answers they needed to move forward and then held them to the fire I’d lit.
On the day it was admitted to me that they didn’t think they had the legal right to bulldoze the place, and the inside concern was of legal retribution down the line, we talked it out and discovered who we needed to work with via the county counsel and met with them to determine what paperwork needed to be done. Documents were created and sent out to the right people. Then the state RFP process for the demolition was set up, and finally a contractor was selected.
Nine months after I had begun my quest, the house came down. It was a glorious thing.
We celebrated the beautiful, empty space. The neighbors were happy and relieved, I was victorious, and the county now knew how to demolish nuisance properties that created hazards in our neighborhoods.
As a result, our county has since demolished several other properties on their decade’s long list, because they now have a plan – and can execute it when needed.
The moral of the story? — Most things are possible given the right circumstances.
But it’s up to you to create them. Just be willing to do what it takes and don’t give up on the things that really matter to you — no matter what.
Before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your own empty lot next door.