City to address vacant property upkeep

The grass and weeds are kneehigh, hedges are untrimmed, there is lawn trash and sometimes people will use the unoccupied homes to deal and use drugs. Sound familiar? It does to one South Side man. Glen Billingsley lives near 79th and Cottage Grove Avenue

The grass and weeds are knee high, hedges are untrimmed, there is lawn trash and sometimes people will use the unoccupied homes to deal and use drugs.

Sound familiar?

It does to one South Side man. Glen Billingsley lives near 79th and Cottage Grove Avenue, and is sick and tired of watching the grass grow and garbage accumulate on the property a few doors down from his home.

This didn’t use to be the case.

“The owner used to make sure the grass was cut each week. But for about the last six months he stopped coming around and nothing was happening with the yard. When I finally got in touch with him, he said he didn’t own the building anymore because it was in foreclosure,” Billingsley said. “So now what?”

Upkeep on properties left vacant, especially as a result of the foreclosure crisis, has become an issue for residents who live near them.

Billingsley said the vacant building looks completely out of place on the block and will eventually drive property values down.

He wants to start maintaining it himself but doesn’t want to start a habit that he shouldn’t have to keep up. He is only responsible for his property, not the urban jungle growing near him, he said.

“My property’s value is slowly decreasing, but my property taxes aren’t reflecting that. Foreclosed and vacant properties that are not properly maintained in various neighborhoods aren’t helping homeowners like myself. We are stuck,” he said.

The city plans to crackdown on owners of vacant homes and other real-estate with a newly passed ordinance requiring owners to properly secure and maintain their property.

“The Vacant Property Ordinance goes into effect in November. It states that property owners, including banks, are responsible for securing and maintaining their vacant property. During the first six months only of the property being vacant, they are allowed to use plywood to secure the building. After that, they either need to have all the windows and doors in place, or they all have to be secured with steel panels. Also, if a vacant property has been broken into or damaged, the owner is required to have an active security system,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Buildings.

McCaffrey said violators of the ordinance would be fined an undisclosed amount.

The city hopes that the owners will maintain the grounds to ensure that property values don’t slip and to discourage criminal activity.

Homeowners living next to or near unkempt vacant properties should call 311 to report the conditions of the properties, McCaffrey said.

“Our inspectors will come out and document the problem as it exists and give the owner a citation,” he said, adding that the city does not cut lawns on private property.

City officials estimate that it costs the city between $5,000 to $14,000 a year to monitor and maintain vacant property.

Kathy Chaney can be reached at kchaney@chicagodefender.com.

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