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Code enforcement cracks down on substandard structures

The city’s code enforcement department is currently taking bids to demolish two substandard structures in Levelland.

John Agnew, chief inspector for the city, said the two structures both sustained major fire damage last year and were deemed unsafe by his department.

The first structure is located at 411 1st Street. The department is taking bids on the property for demolition and Agnew expects the process to begin as early as next week.

The department is working to resolve an asbestos issue ta the former VFW building and former Reunion Center at the City Park.

Once that is resolved, Agnew said the process to tear the structure down will proceed.

“I hope within the next 90 days we’ll be able to do something with that one,” Agnew said.

The resurgence of aggressive code enforcement comes on the heels of an updated ordinance passed by the city council last year in reference to substandard structures.

Agnew said the ordinance needed to be updated in order for the department to legally address the structures.

“We had to reshape our whole ordinance,” Agnew said. “It’s quite a bit more detailed than we have ever done it, but we are fully legal doing it.”

The entire process, from the time a substandard structure is identified to when the demolition begins is usually six weeks to two months, Agnew said.

He said the entire process is significantly sped up when the owner of the property signs off on the demolition process.

The first place that a vacant substandard structure is identified is usually be a call for service to the police department, said Albert Garcia, police chief.

“We get the call first,” Garcia said. “When the police department gets involved, we have calls for service that involve potentially homeless people squatting in abandoned residences.”

He said once police officers identify that there are individuals squatting in structures at are vacant, and usually dangerous, they notify code enforcement.

“Then they start their investigation into whether they need to condemn the location,” Garcia said.

Often times, Garcia said, the vacant structures are being used by those who are squatting in it for criminal activity.

“The squatters who go into a house that has been abandoned usually utilize it for criminal activity,” Garcia said.

He said the partnership between the police department and code enforcement department has been double win for the City of Levelland.

“By us partnering up together, they can condemn the structure and board it up to restrict to those people getting in and using it as a location for criminal activity,” Garcia said.

Additionally, when substandard structures are identified and addressed, either by demolition or the property owner choosing to bring the structure back up to code.

“It helps to clean up the neighborhood,” Garcia said. 

Once a property is condemned, the code enforcement department works with the city attorney to get in contact with the owner of the property.

“When a property is condemned, an owner can be identified and either choose to tear the structure down, bring it back up to code, or at least keep it boarded up until action is taken,” Garcia said.

Another issue the police department has encountered with squatters in abandoned homes is theft of service.

“Once, before a home was vacant it was being populated by people who were homeless and using the house for criminal activity,” Garcia said. “They had extension cords running from the neighbor’s house to the vacant house to give it electricity and that is a major violation.”

The city identified there was a problem with substandard structures last year before choosing to update the substandard structures ordinance.

“We realize we’re an aging community and it’s only going to increase,” Rejino said. “We want to do our best to get in front of it. We did that by updating the ordinance to make sure we have the right tool to move forward more aggressively than we have in the past.”

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