AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — Neighbors in two different parts of Austin, Texas, are frustrated as burned and damaged properties have sat in disrepair for months.
Diana Melcer Whitson said the view from her north Austin home is eye-catching for all the wrong reasons. Her neighbor’s home is fire-damaged, and the yard is filled with mannequins, vacant vehicles and painted signs.
“It says, ‘Love thy neighbor, even if she is bat-s— crazy’”, Whitson read as she looked across the street. “It’s just gotten worse.”
Whitson said neighbors in her community have been trying for years to get the owner to clean up. Austin Code Department records show eight complaints in the last three years.
A code department spokesperson described a back-and-forth process where the owner would clean up sometimes to get in compliance, but not act on other violation notices.
The code department even got a warrant to remove junk from the front and back yards, but the spokesperson said the owner kept collecting more stuff. After another code violation was posted on the property last October, the house caught fire early the very next morning.
The Austin Fire Department ruled the fire, which spread to the house next door, accidental. The department said a candle had fallen in the house, which had no electricity and “major hoarder conditions.”
Nearly six months later, what’s left of the house still stands.
“It should be torn down, but we’re waiting on the city,” Whitson said.
On the phone, the homeowner would not tell Nexstar’s KXAN his plans for the property. Instead, he focused on his strained relationship with his neighbors.
“They don’t come straight to me and ask me my problems or about issues,” said the homeowner.
Another Austin resident, Mary Johnson, is dealing with frustrations similar to Whitson. Two fourplexes caught fire in her neighborhood a year and a half ago. Just the slab is left for one that was destroyed. The other, heavily damaged and unlivable, is still there. Both properties have become prolific junk piles.
“It looks like a dumpsite,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re looking at, basically.”
City records show, between the two fourplexes, there have been 23 complaints since early 2021, with 12 of those in 2023 regarding the condition of the properties.
A couple bought both fourplexes after the fire. One of the owners told KXAN the reason she hasn’t gotten the mess cleaned up yet is because of red tape from the city and that one of her employees dropped the ball on getting permits.
“Doesn’t offer me nothing because I’m here living with it,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she can’t understand why the city, with all the complaints, hasn’t acted faster to take control of the situation.
But her problem has some competition. According to Austin Code records, there are 4,532 active structure condition violations in the city since the beginning of 2021, although Austin Code does not designate which are related to fires.
The city’s Building and Standards Commission decides if the city moves forward with demolition, and it meets once a month.
In January, the members green-lighted the process to tear down the fourplex, but the property owner said she has since started working with the city to get permits to rebuild.
Soon after Nexstar’s KXAN spoke with Johnson, the property owner had the area cleared and fenced. The owner said those steps were already in the works.
As far as the north Austin house across from Whitson, the city’s Building and Standards Commission voted on Wednesday to approve a demolition order for the house, but it’s a process that can take up to eight months.
Speaking to the commission, the homeowner said he intends to clean up the yard as soon as possible and is trying to work with his insurance company to rebuild before the city tears the house down.