The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

State lawmakers from Cedar Rapids see to it that owners of abandoned flood-damaged homes don’t louse up a return to life for neighbors

In Brian Fagan, Floods, Rob Hogg on April 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm

A common lament in flood-hit neighborhoods here comes from those fixing up their homes while neighbors next door or down the block have abandoned theirs.

On Thursday, the Iowa Legislature did something about that.

State lawmakers passed a bill and sent it to Gov. Chet Culver that will permit Cedar Rapids and other cities to go to court and in expedited fashion take title to disaster-affected abandoned properties if a concerted effort to find the owner has failed.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, managed the bill through the Iowa Senate and on Thursday said that the city of Cedar Rapids has told him that it thinks the owners of 150 to 200 flood-damaged properties have simply walked away from them and can’t be found.

“The biggest thing is it gives the city clear title to this property that has been abandoned so the city can then do something productive to the property,” Hogg said.

Hogg said Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, managed the bill in the Iowa House.

The legislation, he said, is “very much in favor” of people who are trying to repair their homes or the business people who are trying to bring their businesses back in the flooded zones.

“One of the things that is so challenging right now is you might have an owner here and an owner here who are bringing their properties back, but these other properties, their owners have just walked away from them,” Hogg said. “And they’re in as dilapidated a condition as they were last June when the flood waters receded.

“And so it’s unfair to the people who are trying to bring their properties back to have neighboring properties that have just been totally walked away from. And hopefully this procedure will allow the city to do something very quickly about that.”

Hogg said the bill includes a provision that brings the legal action to a halt if the owner shows up within the period of the action. The city must work to find an owner of a disaster-affected property at least 30 days before going to court. At least 60 days then must pass before a court hearing on the matter.

If the court agrees the property has been abandoned, the court awards clear title of the property to the city at the property’s existing market value. The city pays that amount to the court, and if unclaimed, the money reverts to the city after two years.

Hogg said the bill, which addresses property damaged by a disaster between May 1 and Sept. 1, 2008, is designed to remedy “truly abandoned property.”

Cedar Rapids City Council member Brian Fagan on Thursday said the city had pushed for the legislation because abandoned properties, which had been a problem for the city prior to the flood, are especially a problem since the flood.

“Certainly we want to be respectful of property rights, but the huge, overriding concern is the health, welfare and safety of our residents,” Fagan said.

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