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Every abandoned home has a story

June 6, 2018 GMT

ROCK FALLS – The city is working its way through a long list of abandoned properties, most of them on the path to demolition.

The circumstances surrounding how the structures made the list might differ, but if they have been ignored for several years, the city can go through the judicial system to gain possession.

“They are considered abandoned legally if no one has lived there in 3 years, and the taxes and utilities have gone unpaid during that time,” City Building Inspector Mark Searing said.

One house on West 15th Street was vacated through the death of its owner. The home wasn’t left to anyone in a will. The only family member that could be found lived in another state and didn’t want the property.

The city received a judicial deed on that property in May and is looking to sell it.

“This one’s in decent shape and can be rehabbed,” Searing said. “Whoever buys it has 1 year to bring it up to code or the city can take it back.”

The city would like to see the building at 711 Ninth Ave. saved and put back on the tax rolls, but demolition is a possibility. A different situation pushed back the timeline on acquiring that property. A potential investor paid back taxes on the property, sight unseen, which is often the case.

“When they see the property, they can get their money back from the county if they decide they don’t want it,” Searing said.

Now the city will move to acquire the deed to the property, which has spurred petitions from the neighbors. Complaints range from squatting to drug activity.

Several of the problematic properties are foreclosures, but bank involvement doesn’t always make things easier. Banks can walk away from the properties as well.

A bank has stepped up to take care of a garage problem on a foreclosure at 520 Avenue D.

“A tree fell on the garage and the bank is taking care of the demolition there,” Searing said.

Most of the properties are beyond saving, and are on the demolition list. The court process is just beginning to acquire the deed to 1006 Avenue A. Others on the list are 1206 13th Ave. and 241 Avenue F.

“We hope to have the deeds within a month for the 13th Avenue and Avenue F properties, and then we’ll put out the bids for demolition,” Searing said.

A property owner near the Avenue F site is interested in buying the lot after demolition. That would save the city from incurring additional mowing costs that are approaching $3,000.

A closed gas station/truck stop at 1509 U.S. 30 has brought fines for the owner. The Chicago businessman had agreed to have the building taken down. It was scheduled for May 22, but the owner later told the city that the contractor backed away from the job. Conversations continue.

Amy Stoeckel is now a working in the building department on a full-time basis. Stoeckel had been splitting time with the police department.

“Amy is doing more code enforcement for us, so that’s freed up more time for me to work on these abandoned properties,” Searing said.

There have been a few years in which the city has received grants from the Abandoned Properties Program through the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The city also budgets for expenses incurred with distressed properties.

“We’ve been awarded grant money several times and that goes into our demolition fund,” City Administrator Robbin Blackert said. “We put $49,500 in the budget for the fund this year.”

The city can help to replenish the demolition fund from proceeds from property sales.