Remedying blighted property in your neighborhood 

This week’s question comes from Carla P. in Bayview-Hunters Point:

Q:I live in Bayview-Hunters Point. The lady next door was really old, and she had her son move in with her. He started collecting metal and other garbage. As she got on, she let the yard care slip. Her son started turning the place into a dump. Now there is trash, washing machines, old refrigerators and God knows what else piling up. It’s rat heaven and I am afraid the place is going to burn up. Us neighbors try and keep our places nice, but this guy tells us to f--- off when we ask him to clean up. What can we do?”

A: Carla, you have a right to expect that your neighbors will keep their property reasonably clean. The conditions you referred to are commonly known as blight. San Francisco has an ordinance, called the Community Preservation and Blight Reduction Act, contained within the S.F. Administrative Code (Section 80.1) that codifies the responsibilities of a landowner to maintain his or her property.

The Board of Supervisors, in Section 80.2, determined that properties that are in a condition of significant deterioration or disrepair attract vagrants, gang members and other criminal elements as prime locations to conduct their illegal criminal activities, cause general deterioration and instability, and substantially endanger the health and safety of residents of the blighted properties and of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Department of Public Works is empowered to issue notices of violation and take action to remedy blighted properties under the doctrine of nuisance.

The presence of any accumulation of filth, garbage, decaying animal or vegetable matter, wastepaper, hay, grass, straw, weeds, vegetation overgrowth, litter, trash, cigarette or cigar butts, unsanitary debris, waste material, animal or human excrement is a nuisance prohibited under law.

Likewise, “overgrown, dead or decayed trees, weeds or other vegetation, rank growth, rubbish, junk, garbage, litter, debris, flyers or circulars” are recognized as fire hazards and conditions that promote the spread of vermin. As to the “scrap yard,” Section 80.3 specifically identifies any property that contains, in the outdoor area, any refrigerator, washing machine, sink, stove, heater, boiler, tank, or other household equipment or furniture as being blighted.

Whenever the director of the DPW determines that a property is blighted, the director may require any necessary abatement or other enforcement actions.

The director, or an appointee, can inspect the property and require the owner to pay a property inspection fee of up to $250. Under Section 80.4, the DPW can issue an abatement order requiring the landowner to take action as soon as possible, and no later than 15 days after notice of the violation, although he or she can apply for an extension. A person cited also can request a hearing challenging the citation in front of an administrative law judge.

The director of the DPW can file a notice of abatement against the title of a delinquent property owner. If the owner fails to abate the nuisance the director can order the DPW to do so and then place a lien on the landowner’s property. A lien is a notice filed in the county recorder’s office against the title that indicates a debt is owed to The City for the costs associated with the abatement. Upon sale or transfer of the property, The City must be paid in order to secure a clear title.

So Carla, I suggest that you contact the DPW either by dialing 311, or by going to the sf311.org website and searching for “blight,” and request that they come out and inspect the property.

Hopefully they will do so, serve a citation and cause the neighbor to abate the nuisance. In case the DPW fails to take action, you, as an owner affected by the blight, can request an injunction in the Superior Court. An injunction is an order by the court that someone either stop doing something they are doing, or an order compelling them to do something.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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