Could solution to clean neglected properties cause more problems?

After years of complaints and thousands of dollars in fines, the Honolulu City Council is moving forward on a plan to clean up a neglected house in Kaimuki.

But some fear the proposed solution may go too far.

People in Kaimuki know it as the “hoarder’s house,” a Second Avenue home that is littered with trash.

Residents say they have seen the place go from bad to worse over the course of nearly 20 years.

Neighbors have reached out to the city and state for help, but nothing has been done to deal with the homeowner.

The house sits in the district represented by city councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. She introduced a measure that would have attempted to deal with the problem.

But the measure has evolved and now, the proposal may, in the words of some people, be too harsh of a solution.

Since March of 2008, the city has issued notices of violations against the homeowner, but nothing has been done to correct the situation.

As of late August, the homeowner has accumulated almost $165,000 in fines.

Now the city council is moving on a measure that would give officials the power to deal with this and other kinds of situations deemed public nuisances.

The latest version of Bill 52 defines public nuisances as anything unsafe or unsanitary which harms or threatens to harm the general public and lists several examples, including weeds taller than 18 inches that could catch fire, stagnant ponds or pools of water, the storage of personal property that covers at least 30 percent of your yard not enclosed in a structure, abandoned refrigerators not secured by a lock, and one or more vehicles in a junked, wrecked or inoperable condition that sit for more than 30 days, unless it sits in an enclosed structure.

That home on Second Avenue caught the attention of Kobayashi, who told KHON2 there are homes like that all over the island.

“Every time we bring this subject up, someone would call and say ‘We got one of those houses in our neighborhood,'” said Kobayashi.

While real estate analyst and broker Stephany Sofos says this kind of remedy is common in other jurisdictions and in Canada, the city proposal, if it becomes law, would allow city officials armed with a court order to deal with a public nuisance by “seizing, removing, repairing, altering, demolishing or otherwise destroying private property.”

“A lot of people have cars they are working on, grass they haven’t cut, properties they haven’t maintained, because they don’t have the money,” said Sofos, “and so this can be very, very draconian for many, many people.”

As for Bill 52, Kobayashi says it is very different from the original Bill 8 that she introduced: “It’s just kept evolving and yeah, it’s a big bill now.”

Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga also worked on the bill. She told KHON2 that city attorneys need a laundry list of reasons to make it legal for city officials to move in on a property deemed a public nuisance.

The measure now goes to the city council for second reading and a public hearing on September 10.

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