Knox County community complains blighted houses are hangouts for homeless

By: Kate Burgess Email
By: Kate Burgess Email

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- We went to a north Knox County neighborhood, sick of looking at messy and abandoned houses.
County and city officials don't always have the legal right to bring out the wrecking ball but they're working to change that.

One house on Water Road in north Knox County has been condemned for several years. It's a mess none of the neighbors wants to look at and some of them told us, it's become a hot bed for criminal activity.

"[Homeless people] sleep in sleeping bags and they come and they drink and do drugs," he said.

In spite of neighborhood complaints, nothing's been done.

"It's a disaster. It needs to be tore [sic] down," the neighbor added.

But city and county officials said, in many cases, their hands are tied.

"Homeless people do get into vacant houses," said Chad Weth, Planning Coordinator for Knoxville's Public Service Department. But, he continued, "It takes so long to be able to take control of the house. People have a lot of property rights. Even if they're bad owners, they still have property rights."

Homeowners can be behind in their taxes for three years, before the government can take control of their property. They can board it up but unless the abandoned home's condition causes a danger, city or county crews can't tear it down.

"Blighted homes take down the property value in neighborhoods. So there's been a lot of push from neighborhood folks about properties in their neighborhoods that need to be addressed," Weth said.

That's why city officials are trying to make the ordinance tougher. The city council will discuss the ordinances again in their scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

If there's an abandoned home in your neighborhood, Knoxville residents should call 311 (or 215-4311) with complaints about run down houses, or the police department if you think there's criminal activity going on inside.

For county problems, call 215-HELP (215-4357).

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