Answer Man: What rights do I have as a neighbor of a ramshackle house?

September 5, 2018

Dear Answer Man: I hate to ask you to put your nose to the grindstone on this subject, but how long can a house on a residential street sit after mold remediation has been done before the mold bears its ugly head again? The owners of a neighboring home up and left years ago, and last summer a team of hazmat suit-wearing workers filled a trash bin with debris but never completed the cleanout. The house and yard are in shambles. Do those living next door to this mess have any rights? — Who’s Minding the Mold.

Don’t worry about my nose. It wouldn’t want to be any other place but pressed to the grindstone. But the answer I’ve come up might not be wholly satisfying to you. Rights? Perhaps not too many. Options? Those you have.

One option, says Randy Johnson, the city’s director of building safety, is to file a complaint on the city’s website, rochestermn.gov, if you feel a neighbor’s house is falling apart, dilapidated or not being properly maintained “from the exterior standpoint.”

If city investigators find problems with the house, such as siding that’s falling off, broken windows or a significant amount of peeling paint, they will contact the owner and seek to have the owner fix the problem. In some cases, the city will hire contractors to clean up a messy yard and add the cost to the taxes a property owner owes.

But there are limits to what a city can do. Property owners who are the subjects of such complaints have rights, too, and are protected by due process.

Complaints about houses overgrown with mold pose their own set of difficulties, because mold is not specifically regulated by city code. If the mold is not visible from the outside, “there’s nothing that we can address with regard to that,” he said.

“If there’s mold growing in the basement of a vacant house, that’s a property issue, and, at some point, if the property gets to where it’s uninhabitable, we would post it as a condemned property,” Johnson said. “Again, we don’t go into vacant properties and make sure they are being maintained from the inside. We make sure they are being maintained from the outside.

One last point: Johnson recommends that complaints be filed with rochestermn.gov rather than called in. The complainant’s identity is protected by state statute, and the results of the inspections and remediation requirements are posted online.

“We get a lot of complaints about junk yards. Vacant properties have not really been an issue in the city of Rochester,” Johnson said.

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