Vacant homes require vigilance - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Vacant homes require vigilance

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  Code enforcers say an abandoned south Albany house that caught fire early this morning was a haven for sex and drugs. They posted danger signs on the boarded up house in April.

Firefighters say it was dangerous call for them because they had to assume someone may have been inside. No one was. Now firefighters and code enforcement want your help to keep an eye on vacant homes.

Code enforcement has just 20 employees to police everything from alcohol licenses to junk cars to more than 21,000 buildings in Albany.

It keeps them busy enough and while they've been focusing on tearing down Albany most dangerous properties, they need the community's help to let them know when vagrants are setting up house inside boarded up homes.

 Around 2:00 Friday morning firefighters were jolted into rescue mode when neighbors noticed flames roaring from 508 Cedar Avenue.  "It's apparent from the liquor bottles, the beer bottles, mattresses, that this vacant house had been used for an extended period of time for people to congregate and, drink their alcohol, use their drugs, and also have sex in there," said Albany Fire Chief James Carswell.

The fire started in a bedroom, but the cause is undetermined. The house was boarded up in April after Code Enforcement deemed the building dangerous and started the process to tear it down. 

"The bottom line is no matter what you do, when the sun goes down people will find their way into these buildings, you can board them up, but there's always ways to get in," said Carswell.

Putting firefighters who have to enter an already unstable structure at greater risk. Code enforcement says once they've made contact with the owner, they rely on the owner and community to let them know if people are getting inside.

"The downtown target area has about 500 buildings and a total of 900 parcels, there are vacant lots and there are buildings on some lots so its a big challenge for two people," said Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson.

Along with the other services code enforcement must provide, not to mention the calls they get for junk cars, overgrown lots, and the sign ordinance. So far in three years 90 dilapidated buildings have been torn down.

"We are in the process of taking down another 76 or so, and we should have court orders for another 50 or so by summer," said Tilson.

Part of the problem is the high rate of renter occupied properties both in the city and county. Both are over 50% and code enforcement says it's an indication those properties are not as well maintained as owner occupied properties.

That Cedar Avenue home will now be moved up on the list of properties to be demolished. It's a higher priority because of the fire damage.

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