With squatter houses an issue across Hill, owners at 12th and John say demolition is coming

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Police checked a charred 12th Ave house for squatters Wednesday morning (Images: CHS)

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It didn’t take long for squatters to find the three vacant houses at 12th and John after the properties were purchased by a Lynnwood developer in late 2014. Once the rent-paying tenants moved out, complaints and property violations started stacking up. Two fires broke out at houses during one week in January, apparently caused by trespassers. The latest property complaint was filed on Thursday.

City inspectors met with the Hardy Development Company last month to discuss ongoing issues at their properties, which are slated for a new 51-unit apartment building at 121 12th Ave E. Hardy promised to secure the houses and clean up the properties, but didn’t act soon enough.

It’s a problem across Capitol Hill. Since May 2015, paperwork for demolition has been filed for 41 different addresses on and around the Hill. 20 of those have been issued but the rest remain in process. Of the 20 permitted for demolition, many like the 12th and John properties still stand — empty except for the squatters that sometimes call the houses home.

This man told CHS he didn't live in the squat house but had fallen asleep there the night before. "They were nice," he said of the police who rousted him. He told CHS he didn't need a homeless shelter. (Images: CHS)

This man told CHS he didn’t live in the squat house but had fallen asleep there the night before. “They were nice,” he said of the police who rousted him. He told CHS he didn’t need a homeless shelter. (Images: CHS)

At 12th and John on Wednesday, an emergency order was issued at 1123 E John and 123 12th Ave E  by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection. Seattle police and crews from DCI cleared squatters from two houses and secured the doors and windows (no arrests were made). The city’s Conservation Corps removed debris and cut down overgrown vegetation. Work is scheduled to continue through Friday at Hardy’s expense.

According to Hardy construction manager Greg Taylor, the company lacked the resources to dispatch a crew within the city’s timeline.

“You do the best you can to stay ahead of (properties) and keep them secure,” Taylor said. “The squatters have a pretty persistent attitude in staying in those buildings.”

Hardy acquired demolition permits for all the properties by January. However, Taylor said the company cannot secure financing for projects until it receives a building permit, which it got in April. Demolition of the three houses should start in the coming weeks, Taylor said.

Rarely can developers keep tenants in a building up until it is demolished, especially given the city’s unpredictable and overburdened permit approval process. Once a property is purchased for redevelopment, existing tenants are usually offered month-to-month leases as developers often want to start construction as soon as permits are approved. Taylor said most tenants seek out more longterm leases, so properties sit vacant. And with emergency levels of homelessness in Seattle, increasingly more people are seeking shelter.

Still, the owners of vacant properties are responsible for keeping their buildings secure and maintained. Buildings that persistently violate those codes can be placed on the DCI’s vacant building monitoring program, which currently includes about 250 properties inspected quarterly.

A SPD spokesperson said officers spot check known squats in addition to responding to trespassing calls. Most buildings, like the three houses at 12th and John, end up on the city’s radar through neighbor complaints.

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16 thoughts on “With squatter houses an issue across Hill, owners at 12th and John say demolition is coming

  1. The City Council really needs to look at this problem and pass some new laws. The process of issuing a demolition permit should be streamlined, and once it is issued there should be a tight deadline for when the demolition occurs. Even if the redevelopment project is not ready for construction, the demolition should be done to prevent the kinds of problems caused by squatters.

    There is a derelict house in the 500 block of 10th Ave E which has sat unoccupied for years. It’s an eyesore. Why can’t the City do something about this kind of thing?

    • I have been told that it’s not a matter of it being difficult to get a demolition permit. It’s that if you get a demolition permit, you can’t start the process of getting the construction permit until the demolition is 100% complete. Whereas if you get a demolition-and-construction permit, you spend less time dealing with permit process (but the eyesore property sits there for months and turns into a biohazard nightmare).

  2. In stark contrast to the long vacant waiting period at 12th and John, two buildings at 13th and Howell went from being seemingly-occupied to being destroyed in less than a month.

    I would be curious to know if the difference is just that the 13th and Howell properties stayed occupied on month to month leases that usually aren’t accepted by tenants in other buildings scheduled for demolition?

    • I was so confused having walked past occupied homes then soon after seeing the pile of debris. I knew they were slated for redevelopment but that was a really quick turn around.

    • lived in a beautiful old home that is slated for demolition on Aloha which is also owned by Hardy Development. we were on month to month for over a year after the property was sold to them in the fall of 2014- they kept us up on all the permits as they were going through and finally gave us notice to permanently vacate the property in January of 2016 as the development was ‘planned to start in February” the house still remains standing and vacant today- nearly 4 months after the fact.

      i suspect what is happening is that big developers like Hardy who own multiple properties around the city/capitol hill have to wait longer to get final approval for demo and rebuild as opposed to others who maybe just have one property they are developing.

      in my opinion the city needs to be capping certain amounts of permits every year on demolition and rebuilds because at the rate things are going soon enough the entire neighborhood will be demolished and displacement numbers will be at even higher all times rates. the essence is slowly being stripped of what was once a pretty unique city – folks being pushed further and further north and south- per usual only the wealthy ones will remain, living in the skeletons of what once was

  3. The city needs to make sure it is minimizing the time it takes for a demolition permit to be issued.

    That said, the property owners should be directly responsible for the police and fire response costs if they are unwilling to tear down the property slated for demolition. Apparently the fines for a nuisance property such as this aren’t high enough to inspire them to act.

  4. The property owners should soak the interior of the house with an unbearable smell like raccoon urine. Doubt anyone would want to go inside then.

    • Only everyone else would smell it as well. Years ago there was abandoned property right on the corner of Bellevue and Pine that was rat infested. You could smell the urine from the sidewalk when walking past. It was a good day when that building finally went down.

  5. “According to Hardy construction manager Greg Taylor, the company lacked the resources to dispatch a crew within the city’s timeline.”

    Let me get this right.. Hardy Construction spent hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing and acquiring these properties and now they “lack resources” to properly secure their properties? What a crock of B.S.!

    These companies simply don’t care. They spent millions of dollars to acquire properties but act like their cupboard is bare when it comes time to keep the properties from becoming eye sores or nuisances to those that live around them. They do this because the city simply doesn’t seem to care or the city is slow to act and enforce regulations and laws. Frankly, if the city tolerates such from developers then developers will continue to thumb their noses at city officials and the obviously minimal fines imposed.

    Having said that, Hardy as the property owner should be fined daily, very large amounts of money for failure to act responsibly. Its very simple, if their pocket book is hit enough, you will get cooperation. But since paying what must be only minor amount the city currently imposes in fines obviously doesn’t entice Hardy to find “enough resources” to respond on the city’s time line.

  6. This is a DISGRACE. Hardy should be levied HUGE $$$ fines for making the neighborhood put up with this for so long. The city needs to act NOW>

  7. “lacking resources” is code words for; we don’t have the money. Construction financing is always hard to get, and over the last month, it’s gotten even harder. The banks are not stupid, they get the fact that we (Seattle) could be building a apartment bubble, and they don’t want be holding the bag when the music stops. Remember 2008.

    I’m not sure what the fees and fines have been, but trust me, this is not an inexpensive process.

    Finally, the City is reticent to issue demo permits without a building permit (although they have issued a demo permit for 121 12th Ave E.). That is, they don’t want to see vacant lots. They want new buildings with a low nuisance factor and much higher property taxes and fees.

    • Who the F prefers squats to vacant lots? The squatters wreck buildings pretty thoroughly after a very short occupation time; I can’t imagine it’d possible to reoccupy these buildings even with extensive cleanup. On top of the biohazards you have to assume there is structural damage, that the wiring has been torn up (possibly only partially, creating a nice fire hazard) and that the plumbing might have been ripped out for scrap.

      Those houses that were demolished at 13th & Howell? Unoccupied for less than a month and still totally wrecked. The thieves left live wires dangling over the sidewalk at eye height.

      Vacant lots aren’t very nice, but I’d like to see squats get demolished by default.