Demolition of 'unsafe' homes in new territory

PBC Building Division demolishing unsafe houses

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - At the corner of Rainbow Avenue and Happiness Street, a shell of a house stands. The windows are broken, the doors are missing and two shopping carts lay across a lawn littered with trash. 

"It doesn't look too great," said Zeaiter Tannous, who has rented a home down the road for two years.

Residents of the neighborhood say it has become a nuisance.  Some claim there are illegal activities taking place inside the vacant house.

The house will soon be demolished, one of the first in Palm Beach County to be paid for as part of a new program, which targets buildings considered unsafe and abandoned by the Building Division.

The burden of cost for the demolition for the home will not fall on taxpayers.

"The beauty of this is that you're using money from the properties that are in distress to basically correct problems with the properties that are in distress," explained Building Division Director Doug Wise.

Under the program, passed last year, banks and management companies pay a fee for vacant and foreclosed properties. The money is trickling in now, funding demolition of homes that can't be saved. Property owners pay for tax abatement, and the money goes back into the program's system.

Demolition of a building, the asbestos and environmental surveys can cost $10,000 to $15,000 and in some cases much more. 

"There are security implications that are theoretically, properties can be used for illicit activities, drugs, crime," Wise said.

Due process includes multiple steps, allowing property owners to fix problems or demolish the building themselves.  The last resort of demolishing a building can take a year or much longer from the first notification. Funding this year is now coming exclusively from the account of the new program, and Wise believes the final steps of the process will be more rapid.

Neighbors of the home on Happiness Street say there are other homes in their area that need to be reviewed.

"This only, little street, got like three or four houses deserted and was on fire, and stuff like that," said Tannous.

If you know of an unsafe or problematic structure, contact Code Enforcement at 561-233-5500 or the Building Division at 561-233-5000. If you believe illegal activity is taking place at the vacant building, contact the Palm Beach County Sheriff's non-emergency line at 561-688-3000, or dial 911 if it is an emergency.

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