Denver seeing decline in number of derelict and neglected buildings
Every month, Steven Baptista visits nearly 100 houses across metro Denver. When he pulls up to each address, he grabs his iPad and goes through a checklist as he walks around the property. Are there signs of trespassing? Is there trash buildup? Is there construction, and if so, does the owner have the right permits? Are there any other zoning violations that should be noted?
A city inspector, Baptista has been in charge of 93 neglected or derelict buildings in Denver since November and visits as many as 20 properties a day. The goal is to get the properties back up to code and suitable for living.
Typically the homes are vacant and the exteriors are in bad shape. Some have fire damage that was never repaired and they are not secure. Unsecured buildings can be hot spots for squatters, criminal activity and illegal dumping.
“Some have been on there quite a few years, others are taken off pretty quickly,” Baptista said.
He’s seen several buildings added to his list, but there’s a brighter side to his job these days: More addresses are leaving the list than in years past. Owners, likely spurred by an improving economy and robust real estate market as well as a revised city ordinance, are fixing up their properties.
The number of neglected and derelict buildings in Denver has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since the city revised its ordinance on these properties in 2012, which gave the city more opportunity to leverage fines against the owners. There were 181 properties designated as derelict or negligent when the ordinance was passed. (At one point the list included about 500 properties, a former inspector says.)
Previously it was difficult to contact some property owners, officials said, but that has improved since the city devoted more resources to making contact and enforcing fines.
The ordinance “gave us the teeth we need to assist and do things in the community,” said chief inspector Jose Viveros. Previously, he said, inspectors didn’t have the tools to help owners nor nudge them into improving their properties.
The revised ordinance added fines of $1,000 levied annually to owners of neglected and derelict properties in addition to any code violation costs. The city refrains from levying fines if an owner has a plan to fix up a building. It also levies more harsh fines, of up to $999 a day in civil fees, in extreme cases. Such was the case with the Bosler House, a historic-designated home that fell into disrepair after the roof was left open for about five years during a dispute between the city and the owner.
Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks co-sponsored the update to the ordinance and said the city has done a great job these past five years working with property owners to reduce the number of derelict homes and improve neighborhoods.
“One thing we were seeing is that these properties were creating all kinds of issues for communities,” Brooks said. “It really incentivizes them to do something. Before we didn’t have any teeth, now they will continue to get fined.”
Most of Denver’s derelict properties sit in west or northwest neighborhoods, Baptista said. Others dot the Five Points, Cole, Clayton and Northeast Park Hill neighborhoods.
Barry Lewis of Manna Investment Group has been working with the city since November to get a property he purchased in Athmar Park up to code. The home has upstairs and downstairs units and the upper floor is occupied.
The home had been vacant for several years. A fire-damaged garage stood behind the home. Lewis has rebuilt an upper deck, painted the home’s exterior and cleaned up the interior.
“This is now the nicest house on the block,” Lewis said. “Hopefully it will set an example and others will follow suit. That would be nice.”
Fixing up derelict properties improves the atmosphere of a neighborhood, Brooks said. He has received positive feedback from residents near rehabbed properties who say there is less criminal activity and illegal dumping these days.
“The best thing is that crime is dropping, especially in my neighborhood,” Brooks said. “The city won’t tolerate these out-of-town property owners that are degrading the neighborhood.”