Ramshackle blues 

Rafters are exposed and windows busted on the burned-out hull at 405 S. Cedar St. It's been that way nearly seven years since struck by fire, and there's not much hope things will change soon.

"It's kind of embarrassing," says Iggy Beljovkin. He and girlfriend Renae Hill live down the street and are working to revive this Hillside neighborhood, where many of the 100-year-old homes sport fresh paint and manicured yards, unlike Norma and Sam Dunlap Jr.'s shabby corner property. "It's the first thing you see when you drive down the street," Beljovkin says.

But despite complaints that pre-date the fire to 2002, Dunlap has refused to fix up the house, tear it down, or sell it. The city seems powerless, caught in a tangle of procedures and laws that, like budgetary constraints, favor property owners.

'A disgrace'

The city has 77 buildings on its condemned list, meaning occupancy is forbidden. Fifteen of those are labeled dilapidated, meaning they have had three or more code violations within the previous year, are a blight, and raise safety concerns.

Adopted in 2006, the dilapidated building ordinance carries quarterly fines of $500, encouraging owners to repair their properties and help the city recoup its costs. Code enforcement chief Ken Lewis says officers have been to Dunlap's Cedar house 100 times over the years.

Once declared dilapidated, a building can be deemed "dangerous" by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. And at that point, it can be legally demolished. But that step is rare.

More than three years ago, a fire gutted a house at 1726 W. Colorado Ave. Since then, neighbor Ernie DiFiore says he's repeatedly complained to the city that the house has been a magnet for homeless people and raccoons. Lewis' office has determined that the homeless problem demands the city demolish it this summer.

When it comes down, Lewis will watch $46,000 of his annual $50,000 demolition budget disappear.

He plans to bill the owner, Mark Cunningham, who individually and with his mother, Lucille, owns $1.8 million worth of property in the city. But getting Council approval for collection can take long enough that an owner could sell a property before the lien gets filed, Lewis says. Cunningham couldn't be reached for comment.

Code enforcement could sidestep the "dangerous building" route by asking City Council to authorize legal action and gain control of the property through a receiver. But Lewis says judges have privately discouraged him.

"It's difficult to take someone's property or clean the property, because nobody will be told what to do," Lewis says. "It used to be if there was a hoarder, code enforcement would go condemn the whole house. Now, the judges are like, 'No, if they want to be a hoarder, that's their business, leave them alone.' If it gets so bad the neighbors can smell it, then we can do something about it."

But tearing down a house? "It's not going to happen quickly, that's for sure," Lewis says.

Bad, not worse

Beljovkin and Hill want Dunlap's house razed to make way for a community garden. They've filed several complaints since 2010. Complaints from others about weeds, inoperable vehicles and rubbish date to 2002, records show.

In mid-2005, fire damaged the house, and it hasn't been occupied since. Last year the city forester removed a tree that teetered from the property over the street, but the city couldn't seek reimbursement from Dunlap because the urgency didn't allow time to send the required notices, Lewis says.

Dunlap, owner of more than $600,000 worth of property locally, has paid no fines, because he's cleaned up the junk or secured the windows of the house, which bears an "unlawful to occupy" sign. It's made the dilapidated list twice, but isn't in bad enough shape to force action.

"The Dangerous Building Code is a tool that is available when a property is at risk of partially or completely collapsing and would endanger the life and limb of the public," Terry Brunette, a Regional Building special investigator, says in an e-mail. "This property is not in that condition."

Besides, Dunlap tells Regional Building he plans to fix it up.

"I'm going to be getting an estimate of what it's going to cost," he says. "I'm going to get it all cleaned out."

Asked what's taken so long, he gets defensive, saying the city has many dilapidated properties, that neighbors didn't have to move there, and that he spends his money helping people.

"I don't totally dispute that it's an eyesore," he says, before asking. "Would you rather help a homeless kid or fix up the house?"

Dunlap says he won't sell because he doesn't want to pay taxes on the income.

"We're just going to keep putting the pressure on him," Lewis says, adding, "$2,000 [in fines] a year, I don't think he wants to pay that too long."

But a substantial change in the property could take years, which Beljovkin calls "a depressing reminder that you can't get anything done in the system."

Mayor Steve Bach's office didn't comment before deadline.


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