What happens when a homeowner won't clean up an eyesore?

City's options few when codes tickets are ignored

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@kmgh.com. See more 360 stories here.

DENVER -- Eyesores. Almost every neighborhood has at least one.The homes with overgrown yards, inoperable vehicles parked all-over, and piles of broken junk.

Cities and homeowners associations try to force homeowners to clean up or pay the price. But some property owners still ignore violation notices and refuse to pay fines.

In those cases, neighbors are often stuck passing by the eyesores every day, potentially taking a hit to their property values. 

 
“If I had to sell my house – which thank goodness I don’t need to – but I think I’d lose a lot of money,” said Bonnie Brae homeowner Laura Cary.

 

Residents in Denver’s high-end Bonnie Brae neighborhood say they are tired of complaining about a vacant home on Milwaukee Street. 

“It’s been going on for seven years,” neighbor Kathleen Williams added. “Everything is rotting. We had a pack of coyotes that lived there in the back.”

Denver codes inspectors have ticketed the owner of the home 11 times in just the past two years. Workers come out and mow the grass and trim branches when they become overgrown.

 

The city sends a bill to property owner Toni Morrison.

Fines now add up to about $7,000, according to a City of Denver spokeswoman. The city said Morrison has mostly ignored the fines. Denver7’s calls to her last known number were not returned.

Neighbors say she’s never cleaned up. They’ve resorted to planting trees in the yard in the hopes they will grow to block the blight.

“This could go on for 20 years, so our hope is these maples will grow and they are pretty fast growers and then we can hide it,” Williams said.

 

Denver7 Investigates analyzed years of citation data and found many properties have been assessed violation after violation, fine after fine.

In some cases there was no indication the property owner had addressed the problem. 

Since 2015:

  • In Denver, 19 homes have received 20 or more separate violation notices
  • In Aurora, 11 homes have received 20 or more codes violations
This city map shows where codes inspectors spend most of their time

 

The question is – what more can be done?

Technically, the city can condemn a property and take ownership of it, but that doesn’t happen very often.

“We can board up a house if there is an imminent danger to the public,” the City of Denver’s chief inspector Laura Fuller said.

The city’s definition of “imminent danger” includes broken windows on vacant properties. 

Technically, the city can condemn a property and take ownership of it, but that doesn’t happen very often.

“We can board up a house if there is an imminent danger to the public,” the City of Denver’s chief inspector Laura Fuller said.

The city’s definition of “imminent danger” includes broken windows on vacant properties. 

 

Over on Yosemite Street, the city ticketed a property owner 8 times.

The property has piles of junk in the yard and inoperable cars parked out front.

When owner James Hargrave wouldn't fix the problem, the city took him to court. When he didn't show up, police arrested him for failure to appear.

But the property hasn't changed. 

At another house on Ash Street near Colfax – one of the most ticketed in Denver -- the homeowner offered another perspective.

 
“The city is a bunch of f---ing liars,” said a man named Rich who sleeps in a van that the property owner said is not drivable.

The home has been cited for having an overgrown yard and multiple vehicles in the back. 

Russ Twyman owns the property.

He explained that he prefers natural plants over grass. He also does not feel he should be penalized for items that he keeps behind his home.

“I think people should be able to live the way they want to live, and I don’t feel the city should be dictating how I should live,” Twyman said.

He said he has no plans to clean up his yard – and he wishes neighbors would stop complaining.

“I don’t really complain about what’s going on in other people’s houses,” Twyman said. “I would want the same courtesy.”

Russ Twyman speaks to Denver7 investigative reporter Jace Larson

Most neighbors we talked to weren't content to turn the other cheek to eyesores.

Over in Bonnie Brae, neighbors said they’ve jokingly contemplated taking extreme measures to force the city’s hand.

“If we smash the windows, the city can board it up and condemn it.” Cary said. “We just can’t do that. We’re not those kind of people. We all joke about it a lot, everybody on this block jokes about it, but no one does it.”

They wanted to know why the city isn’t doing more to intervene.

Denver chief codes inspector Laura Fuller

"It can be frustrating for us too,” said Fuller, the codes chief.

When asked why, in most cases, the city doesn't do more than mow overgrown yards and asses fines. Fuller said options are limited.

“Somebody at some point will have to pay for what the city has done for the property,” Fuller said.

 

Sometimes the city doesn't get compensated for their expenses in maintaining eyesore properties until after they’re sold.

But in those cases, it’s not the neglectful owner who picks up the bill – the buyer gets stuck paying the outstanding fines.