No easy answer to abandoned building problem

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August 25, 2006

As News 12 reported Monday, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office says abandoned buildings can be hotspots for crime. Now we show you why holding the property owners accountable for securing the area is a challenge.

The Old Southern Milling Company on Twiggs Street is one of several hundred abandoned buildings in Augusta.

The glass is busted out of the windows, and the doors are wide open. This is clearly against zoning rules, but we found out finding property owners is complicated...and cutting through the red tape to demolish the building can take years.

The longer they sit, the more dangerous they become. But license and inspection manager Pamela Constable says figuring out who is responsible for Augusta’s roughly 300 dilapidated buildings is a challenge.

“We make every attempt we can to possibly make contact with these people,” she says.

The first step is finding the owner's last known address.

But people move.

The owner of Greene’s has listings across Augusta, including several businesses, two addresses that no longer exist, and two empty lots.

Constable’s office did find the owner’s current address, and they were able to take the case to court. But in cases where they are unable to find the current address, Constable's office looks through old city records and even interviews neighbors.

“Many times people are deceased, it's left to the family, they live elsewhere and can't do anything with the property,” Constable says.

The county can take over, like it did with one old mill. But in many cases the property owner still owes money, and even back taxes.

And the building can't come down until the county contacts everyone who is owed money.

“There's a lot of work,” Constable says. “We have to get in touch with all the people involved and then go all the way through Superior Court."

The process can take months, even years, and cost tens of thousands of dollars. And that means danger spots might be here for a while.

We talked to man who owns Green's. He tells us whenever he fixes a broken door or window, someone breaks it again hours later...and that gets expensive.

Speaking of expensive,there is a penalty for letting the property go.

It's up to $1000 and 60 days in jail for buildings that aren't secured.