Town vexed by blighted property

Published 8:37 am Thursday, April 14, 2016

The issue of blighted, abandoned properties is one that continues to vex Kenbridge Town Council — regularly appearing as an agenda item at the monthly meeting.

The town recently demolished one such house, and is dealing with two others that are falling in right now.

Town Attorney Cal Spencer said the problem is that they are heir property — with plenty of owners, but no one who owns it.

Heir property is land that has been passed down informally from generation to generation.

Usually, the owner died without a will and consequently the land is owned “in common” by all of the heirs, regardless of whether they live on the land, pay the taxes, or have ever even set foot on the it.

“The property owners are to the winds,” Spencer told the council when the issue came up at its February meeting.

At the same meeting, Mayor Emory Hodges said the town should put money in the budget to demolish small houses.

“We have this (conversation) every year,” he said.

The problem is that the property usually isn’t much worth and nobody is paying taxes — and nobody wants to take on the expense for property that they don’t individually own, officials said.

The town has mailed letters to some of the heirs, and in one instance had a running correspondence with one of the relatives about making improvement, Spencer said.

But when she learned the condition of the nearby house, she backed out, he said.

However, town officials note there have been times when the letters from the town prompted improvements.

“We’ve just got to take them one at a time,” Hodges told the board during its February meeting.

“Some of them we’ve been fortunate (and) people took us serious and did something about it.”