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.
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.