Hammond focusing on inspections, demolition of nuisance properties

2013-01-20T19:41:00Z Hammond focusing on inspections, demolition of nuisance propertiesChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | City inspectors plan to crack down on houses and buildings illegally divided into apartment units this year, with officials hoping to double the number they eliminate.

In 2012, the Inspections Department removed approximately 100 cut-ups in the city, according to Kelly Kearney, the city's code enforcement commissioner. Often the properties are former single-family homes cut up in apartment units, which can pose fire traps and other hazards.

“What we seem to be focused toward is single-family homes with a basement apartment or attic apartment or both,” Kearney said. “So three times as much garbage out of that house, three times as many vehicles, three times as many people."

The focus on cut-ups comes as the city demolished 100 properties last year and entered more than 60 properties in a nuisance program, which is a partnership among the inspections, law and police departments.

Hammond's chief inspector called cut-ups one of the biggest problems in the city.

“It seems like eight out of 10 we walk in they are illegal,” Jim Callahan said. “We know that when we walk in, but we still come back and research everything to give them the benefit of the doubt as much as we can without jeopardizing somebody's safety.

"We need to stabilize our housing stock quite a bit more. We've done a good job over the last eight and nine years, but we still have a long way to go.”

If a cut-up is found, the city will attempt to work with its owner to get the building up to code. Sometimes the properties are pegged for demolition because the owner walks away.

The city averages 100 demolitions a year and expects to meet or exceed the number for this year.

“I don't think there's any coincidence crime has dropped 6 percent since we've been doing this,” said Kris Kantar, city attorney. “Because we knock down 100 a year that's 100 less places for a bad guy to hide.”

Another crime-fighting tool is the nuisance program, where a landlord is cited if illegal activity is occurring at the property. Landlords then can either evict the problematic tenant or fight the citation in court, Kantar said.

“A lot of the owners don't live in town,” Kantar said. “They don't come to the property. They don't know what's going on, and they don't care as long as they are getting a check. They've as much as said that.”

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