Hundreds of homes in Johnson County are considered abandoned, meaning a house is empty, and the homeowner cannot be found or contacted to maintain it.
But dozens of other homes in the county could be labeled as abandoned. City and county officials just don’t know where they are.
In Franklin and Greenwood, city workers rely on neighbors or police officers to alert them about homes that are no longer cared for. Wild animals, teenagers or squatters breaking into a home overnight typically prompt a call to get city officials involved.
Franklin community development specialist Rhoni Oliver typically focuses on addressing 10 unsafe homes at a time, including both abandoned and vacant homes. If a roof is falling down or if she can see a hole in the wall of a house, she can inspect the house and require the owner to fix it. On average, it takes about a year for a property to go from unsafe to stable for people to live in, she said.
Some homes, however, can take longer to make safe for the property owner and neighbors.
For example, a house at 544 W. Jefferson St. has been abandoned for several years. The homeowner moved out, and a bank was supposed to repossess the home but never followed through on taking back the property, she said. As a result, the property is in limbo between the former homeowner, who doesn’t own it anymore, and the bank, which never took possession.
In the meantime, the property has racked up more than $77,000 in back taxes. It would cost too much for most potential buyers to pay off the tax debt plus whatever the home costs, plus an estimated $100,000 in renovations to turn the house into a livable state, Oliver said.
So the house continues to deteriorate. The city can demolish it but would have to cover the $10,000-plus cost itself with no hope of getting that money back, she said.
Now, the city plans to spend $10 million renovating and repaving Jefferson Street. Since the city is spending so much money to improve the look of Jefferson Street, city officials also want the homes lining the street to match the soon-to-be upgraded road.
Finding a way to give 544 W. Jefferson St. to a nonprofit or finding a grant to cover the razing the structure is at the top of Oliver’s list.
In some cases, a home is not abandoned but simply is not kept up to a livable state by the owner.
A home in Bargersville has caught the eye of multiple neighbors in the area. The yard is overgrown, the roof is dilapidated, and the backyard has multiple cars and picnic tables stored next to an uncovered, unfilled swimming pool, neighbors said.
Neighbors have called town and county officials to find out what is happening with that house, for fear that a child could fall into the unfilled pool. A few years ago, next-door neighbors thought there could have been squatters in the home, neighbor Tim Hiatt said.
“Our biggest issue is the unsightliness of it. It’s overgrown, dilapidated. It’s basically got a collection of junk in the back,” Hiatt said. “If anyone is playing back there, they’re not getting out.”
The property, at 18 Al-Mar Drive, has been owned by Richard and Beverly Hestand for more than five years. The Hestands own another home in Greenwood but planned to move back into the house on Al-Mar Drive in the near future. Beverly Hestand recently became sick and cannot walk up and down stairs on a regular basis. The home on Al-Mar Drive is a trilevel, so it would not be a suitable place for them to live at this point, Richard Hestand said.
He said the home is in acceptable shape and is not deteriorating. A privacy fence is up, so the backyard is contained from other residents, he added.
The Hestands have a new next-door neighbor. Donna Lutes, the Keller Williams real estate broker who sold the house at 20 Al-Mar Drive, said she received multiple calls about that house. But most of the people calling also wanted to know what was happening next door, she said.
“The house itself doesn’t look terrible. When you get to the backyard, that’s when it looks the worst,” Lutes said. “But the people that bought it (20 Al-Mar Drive) are kind of concerned to get it cleaned up.”
Lutes said she has considered approaching the property owners to see if she could sell that home.
Even though the Hestands do not plan to move back into the home anytime soon, Richard Hestand said, he does not plan to sell it.