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A number of responsibilities are associated with ownership of property, regardless of whether the owner lives on the property or rents it to others.
In addition to any financial obligations that might be incurred — mortgages, taxes, insurance premiums, etc. — property owners should also have wider obligations, to those who live nearby and to the overall community. Based on conditions in various parts of Columbus, there are a number of property owners who are not living up to those latter obligations.
For a city that prides itself on the quality of its aesthetics, Columbus’ landscape is besmirched with pockets of properties that could charitably be described as eyesores.
The condition of these properties goes beyond such distractions as weathered boards, weed-filled lawns or crumbling sidewalks. In the eyes of many they are more comparable to domestic trash piles or junkyards than residences.
Indeed, some of the people who live on these properties treat the landscape as a junkyard — parking abandoned, inoperable, dented and rusting vehicles in full view of passers-by. Their conditions aren’t the only thing that renders them inoperable on the city’s streets and highways. A number of them are unlicensed.
This is not a new problem. It has existed for decades in this community and has only worsened with the passage of time.
Its most recent emergence into public light came from a series of meetings involving residents in the downtown area anchored by the 11th and Washington streets intersection. While crime in the downtown neighborhood was the initial cause for the group’s formation, aesthetic conditions quickly emerged as a major concern, one that was brought to the attention of city officials.
The issue had a familiar ring to those city officials. Mayor Kristen Brown observed that the most complaints she receives in her office are about the condition of neighboring properties.
Council member Dascal Bunch, whose district includes much of East Columbus, said that he hears more about junked cars than anything else. The city does have an ordinance concerning abandoned vehicles, but it is extremely narrow in its coverage, allowing abandoned cars to be removed from public or private property if the vehicle owner left it on someone else’s property.
Responding to citizen concerns, city officials prepared a new ordinance that expanded the definition of the vehicles in question to include the terms “inoperable” and “unlicensed” and proposed that if such conditions existed in public view, even on private property, removal procedures could be initiated by the city.
The ordinance was given approval on first reading at a City Council meeting just over two weeks ago but was withdrawn for further study at a second meeting that attracted members of the Bartholomew County Landlords Association, who protested that it was a violation of property rights.
If there are, indeed, violations of rights at stake in this instance, those of neighboring property owners certainly deserve consideration. These eyesores have a financial impact on those neighbors in the lowering of their property values. They also affect the overall community through the lowering of those property values in that they reduce property tax revenues.
While many of the eyesore properties in question are believed to be rental units, it is incumbent on the landlord/owners to see that they are maintained to at least minimal standards. That is obviously not being done in certain areas of the city where some properties can legitimately be described as junkyards.
If landlords are not willing to live up to at least minimal responsibilities, then city officials should be empowered to take appropriate actions to remedy these situations.
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