El Paso County Commissioners approved a new policy that will make it easier for them to put liens on properties they deem “blighted” or “a nuisance”.
The new city order will allow will eliminate a key step in declaring someone’s property an “environmental nuisance”. This could be because a property has overgrown vegetation, run-down or ramshackle buildings…basically, anything that someone could claim is a “hazard”…which could also mean, “it looks too junky”.
A third way a property could be condemned is one that is very important to remember: eminent domain. That is, a government or an agency of the government takes private property for public use. Many times, calling the property “blighted” or even “poorly-maintained” is the impetus for the use of the eminent domain. The law says the property owner must be “fairly compensated”…but it’s the government that gets to decide what “fair” is.
I probably don’t need to say this but…eminent domain has a history of being abused to seize private property. Say, a city wants to put in a stadium. Or, a big company wants to open a factory. Not all of the landowners agree to sell. The government makes their offer for compensation…but the property owner STILL doesn’t want to sell. It’s not unheard of for the government to turn around and say, “Well, this property looks dirty or unsafe or unkempt…blighted”…and take the property anyway. It seems very crooked but, it happens.
Here’s why I say the city order makes seizing so-called blighted property easier: it removes the crucial step of getting a justice of the peace to agree to your case.
Previously, it worked this way: the county would notify the property owner about the nuisance. Then, the county would start trying to build a case with the justice of the peace. The NEW ordinance, effectively, avoids the second step. The country may still try to build the case with the JP. But, if that fails, the county can go onto the property and have it cleaned or demolish the “blighted” property. Then, the county would bill the property owner. Again, just like with making an eminent domain claim, the government gets to set the price. If the owner can’t be found, is deceased or just can’t pay, the county will now have the authority to place a lien on the property. According to El Paso County director of strategic development Jose Landeros,
If the property is sold, the county can recoup that cost and all the interest.
If you want a more “pro-county government” version of this story from KFOX which they ran as “County Order Looks to Hold Property Owners Accountable”.
So, the county USED to have to actually TRY, at least, to build a case before seizing private property. Under the new county order, they don’t have to clear that hurdle anymore.