CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Overgrown lawns. Trash piled in yards. Boarded up homes.
The city of Charlotte spends hundreds of thousands of tax dollars cracking down on problem property owners each year. The owners are supposed to pay back that tax money. But many don't.
Every time Minda Thompson steps out her front door in northwest Charlotte, she sees a boarded up house across the street with junk in the yard.
"It's a mess, it's an eyesore. It really is," she said. She thinks it hurts property values and attracts the wrong crowd. "It's just terrible. Terrible."
Code enforcement's on it. It posted numerous warnings to the door. They date back months.
Code enforcement warned Shirley Waterman repeatedly too. She lives in Ballantyne. Code cited her for "boxes, furniture, junk, urine, feces, old food and items stacked floor to ceiling in the house. In addition there were complaints of the smell and pests, specifically roaches."
The case dragged on long enough that the city took her to court.
When Action 9's Jason Stoogenke asked her why she didn't take care of the problem sooner, she said she has cancer.
She told Stoogenke she was getting treatment out-of-state, came back in September, and "worked on this project almost every single day since I've been back. I have two people who help me maybe twice a week." She's close to getting her property up to speed.
So is Baxter McRae Jr., who owns a property on Seventh Street in Elizabeth.
The city's been going back and forth with him for four years. The city took him to court too.
When Stoogenke asked him why it has taken so long to get it into compliance, McRae said: “I rather talk to you about it a little later on. I'm not really prepared to go into all that detail right now"
A lot of times, the city hires a contractor to do the work and, then, sends the owner the bill. But still, it's hard to recover all that money. When owners don't pay, the city can do four things:
- Garnish their tax refunds
- Turn the case over to collection agencies
- Get liens on the properties
- Charge the owners with a criminal misdemeanor
The problem is, those four tools don't always translate into taxpayers getting all of their money back.
For example, the city may only recover money from a lien when the property sells, which can take decades. And just because someone faces a criminal charge doesn't mean they'll pay back the full amount the city spent.
Just look at numbers from the second half of 2014. The city spent $286,349 cleaning up roughly 1,500 properties. It will have to wait months or even years to see how much the City gets back for taxpayers. But, just to give you an idea, during the same time, the city recovered $169,682 for previous cases.
What would make Code Enforcement's job easier?
Operations manager Jane Taillon said making sure residents know the rules better.
"Until we can get the citizens educated on what they need to do now, with what's on the books, that's where we need to concentrate,” Taillon said.
As Thompson stares across her street, she agrees it starts with the owners.
"If that's somebody's property, they should do something with it. They should do something with it. It's an eyesore. It's an eyesore,” Thompson said.
If you have trouble getting your primary residence up to compliance, Code Enforcement suggests you:
- see if Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts will help
- see if your house of worship will help
- look for "Realtors Care Day" when Charlotte Realtors do community service