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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • City takes action on unsafe structures

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  • When structures in Pratt reach Jericho conditions (walls come tumbling down according to an old hymn) the city has to step in and either gets the structure stabilized or removed.
    When the city learns of a dangerous structure, the first thing they do is contact the owner and try to resolve the issue without getting involved with any legal enforcement issues, said Pratt City Manager Dave Howard.
    A public hearing is set for just a structure at 412 South Main on Nov. 18. A hearing is also set for 904 Garfield to determine if these structures are unsafe.
    A structure usually becomes unsafe when no one lives in the dwelling for some time. The windows are broken, the doors don't work, it becomes infested with mice, rats or other animals that can draw in feral cats and the residue can become a health hazard.
    Children love to explore and if they were to get inside one of these structures, they could come in contact with material that could be a health risk and not realize the danger.
    Abandoned structures can also become a place where drug uses can gather.
    "It could be a combination of all those things," Howard said.
    Working though the city building inspector, the city notifies the owner of the problems with the structure and, ideally, the owner can get the problems fixed.
    However, just getting in touch with the owner is not always an easy proposition.
    In some cases, the city sends out notices and the owner simply refuses to respond.
    At other times, it is difficult to even find the owner and identify where to send notification, Howard said.
    If the city is unable to locate the owner or the owner has been located but refuses to respond or refuses to take any action, then the city takes the lead in getting action taken to get the unsafe structure either stabilized or razed.
    The first step is to notify the city commissioners about the situation. The commissioners then pass a resolution defining the problem and establishing a date for a public hearing on the matter, Howard said.
    At that hearing, the owner has an opportunity to come before the commissioners and discuss what they intend to do about the structure. At that meeting, the commissioners will give the property owner a deadline to take care of the problem.
    "The commissioners will set a time line to rectify the process," Howard said.
    By the time the situation gets to this point, it is usually too late to salvage the structure and it has to be torn down.
    One structure the city is currently working on at 412 South Main has a collapsed roof and a substantial pile of debris within the structure. The walls could collapse and bricks could fall on the sidewalk and street. The debris is also a danger.
    Page 2 of 2 - The city has had to take this kind of action lots of times over the years when structures have been neglected for so long that they have become a hazard.
    If the property owner either refuses to take action or is financially unable to get the problems fixed, the city may have to put in a claim on the property and take possession of it. Or sometimes the owner gives it to the city.
    The city doesn't like to take this action because the structure is usually beyond repair and the city has to pay for the structure to be demolished. They seldom get reimbursed for the cost of demolition.
    "We rarely recoup our expenses," Howard said. "Rarely is the property worth the cost of taking the structure down."
    If the city takes possession of a property they try to sell it to a neighbor but usually the owner still maintains possession of the property and has to tear the structure down.
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