Complaints prompt property cleanup

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

A Linn County-funded cleanup took place Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 2187 Mill St., next to Porter Park, after several years of complaints led county commissioners to issue a declaration of necessity in April.

Vehicles, tarps and tents moved into the property after the homeowner died.

A prepared statement by County Communications Officer Alex Paul explained that the property, which sits within Lebanon’s urban growth boundary but hasn’t been annexed into the city, posed health risks to the neighborhood with its accumulation of trash, vermin and hypodermic needles.
The single-family home’s owners died in 1999 and 2018. There was no probate by family members, and no one has stepped forward to claim the property.
According to Linn County Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger, the county had made considerable effort to work with family members on the situation.
“You can’t force heirs to come up and take ownership or responsibility,” she said.
Meanwhile, several individuals have moved in, taking shelter in the fire-damaged residence, tents and recreational vehicles. In May 2019, neighbors reported camping, fires and piles of trash. Citations were issued, yet the county continued to receive complaints on a weekly basis.
County staff held initial sessions to discuss the issue in August 2021. Sprenger, with members of the Linn County Code Enforcement and a crisis response team, began meeting with the home’s occupants to discuss their living situation and possible alternatives.
“We can’t make people take help if they don’t want it,” Sprenger said.
The occupants were notified of the county’s plan to take ownership of the property and raze its structure, and a local judge approved an order of abatement in October 2022, giving the county permission to remove the RVs and piles of trash.
According to Paul, the clean-up cost the county approximately $42,000 to fill six 40-yard dumpsters.
Family Assistance and Resource Center founder Shirley Byrd said she began visiting the residence to connect its occupants to various services such as Housing and Urban Development and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“There is a couple living in the back that are elderly and I think one is really ill,” she said. “I’m very concerned about them. They don’t have anywhere to go.”
Byrd said that the occupants were not happy with the intrusion.
“If Lebanon would just provide some place for people to go, this would be eliminated,” she said.
According to Paul’s prepared statement, the County has no interest in taking ownership of the property, but that will be its fate if property taxes are not paid. At this time, Paul wrote, enough taxes have been paid to extend the tax grace period. Should those payments fail, the county will clean out the property and make it available for public ownership via sealed bidding.