ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Albany Fire officials said yesterday seven fires they've responded to since October have been at vacant buildings where evidence showed that vagrants had been staying inside.
It's problem many property owners are concerned about and right now, Albany Code Enforcement is continuing an effort to make sure vacant buildings in Albany are secure from trespassers who could pose potential dangers.
It was two weeks ago, the morning of February 5th, when a vacant home on First Avenue in Albany went up in flames. Fire investigators later determined that a group of vagrants staying inside the home started the fire.
A week later and just few blocks over, it was the same story.
"Vagrants had gotten in here and started the fire," said property owner Morace Duncan.
Fire scene tape now surrounds Duncan's brick duplex. He was renovating the property when it burned down last week. He says the problem with vagrants breaking into his properties has been going on for some time.
"I've found drug paraphernalia in there, old soda cans that's been used for crack. It just seems to be a magnet for vagrants," he says.
Duncan says he has tried numerous means to keep vagrants out his property, but some structures are much easier to get into.
In an effort to keep people out of Albany's vacant buildings Albany Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson has made it a top priority to make sure they're a properly boarded.
He says, 'We had a vacant building ordinance adopted last year and we've been working since it's adoption to get all unsecured buildings secured."
In December, code enforcement was working with a property owner to secure a vacant building in the 1400 block of Palmyra Road. Before that building could be boarded up, the body of a homeless man was found inside. At the time, the vacant structure was open to the outside -clearly anyone who wanted inside could have made their way in. But with 70 active registrations in Albany, some of them multiple properties, bringing these building up to standard is not always easy.
"The issue of how we get a hold of owners is kind of complicated. It depends if somebody lives in town or out of town. A lot of out property owners of these vacant properties live out of town and out of state. It makes it much harder to do our job, says Tilson.
As for Duncan, the fire to his property has forced him to file papers to demolish what's left. He just hopes other property owner don't go through the same thing.
"Something's gotta be done," he says.
Albany Code Enforcement officials say vacant property owners aren't required to board up their buildings unless they're cited by code enforcement to do so.
Many of the building code enforcement look into are complaint driven from public citizens. If you have a vacant property in your neighborhood you're concerned about, you contacts ACE hotline at 229-878-3154.