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Kingsport officials tackling problem of dilapidated structures in city

Matthew Lane • Dec 3, 2019 at 5:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Over the past couple of years, the Model City has deemed dozens of structures — both homes and businesses — as dilapidated and unfit for human occupation.

And as such, 35 of these structures have been demolished — 28 by the owners and seven by the City of Kingsport. Dealing with dilapidated structures is an issue cities all across the country face and is not something that's unique to Kingsport.

It just goes with the territory.

Keith Bruner, the city's chief building official, offered these statistics during a Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session on Monday while also presenting information about how Kingsport determines if a structure is dilapidated and the process used for demolishing these unfit buildings.

ABOUT THE PROCESS

Kingsport's building department is the department that deals with dilapidated structures and is one aspect of the city's overall code enforcement effort. Under state law, Kingsport has the authority to demolish unfit structures and the general process is as follows:

The city receives a complaint about a structure and Bruner's office performs an initial inspection. If it meets the definition of an unfit structure, a dilapidation case is created.

The owners are identified and given 30 days to repair or raze the structure. City Attorney Mike Billingsley said identifying all of the owners and heirs can sometimes be a lengthy process, noting it took six months to track down all of the owners of the old Sevier Terrace pool.

If the owners fail to act, then the case moves toward the hearing process, where Bruner will render a decision about the future of the property following a hearing.

Owners can appeal Bruner's decision to Sullivan County Chancery Court and ultimately to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

If Kingsport has to demolish the structure, a lien for that cost is placed on the property and once the property is sold, the city would then collect the lien.

OTHER INFORMATION

According to information provided to the BMA, Kingsport currently has 53 open dilapidation cases. The city is allowing 14 structures to be repaired, while 13 have had hearings with demolition orders issued. Of those, four are being demolished — two by the owners and two by the city.

Some of the houses on the list don’t necessarily look dilapidated from the outside, but upon closer inspection by Bruner’s office, structural issues become more apparent, which causes the city to take action.

City officials say tearing down a dilapidated structure helps the neighborhood on a number of fronts — improves the value of nearby properties, removes any squatters who may have taken up residence and curbs the spread of dilapidation. City Manager Chris McCartt said when one house gets dilapidated, the phenomenon tends to spread to other nearby properties.

However, the cost of demolishing the structure is not always recovered and sometimes the property can sit idle for years.

“Most of them are small lots and in today’s market are substandard in terms of size,” Billingsley said. “You usually don’t recover your money on it and it’s hard to get a mortgage because of the need for title insurance. Even in Nashville, they’re reluctant to tear houses down.”

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