For two months after the May 22 tornado tore through Jefferson City, code enforcement staff held back on enforcing violations in the area to give people time to recover.
On Wednesday, they officially declared a tornado-damaged property as a dangerous building for the first time.
The dangerous building ordinance in the city's code helps provide a method for repairing, vacating or demolishing buildings that may endanger the life, health or safety of the occupants or general public, according to the city's website.
On Wednesday, the property at 1716 Four Seasons Drive, which formerly housed the Missouri Career Center, became the first tornado-damaged property to be declared a dangerous building under the city ordinance.
The building is owned by JCMO LLC, out of Breese, Illinois, according to MidMoGIS. The News Tribune was unable to reach a representative of the company Friday.
Dave Helmick, housing and property inspector for Jefferson City, said because no noticeable effort has been made to clean up or secure the property, despite previous violation notices, the city has declared it dangerous.
"There is no fence up, no signage, they haven't boarded it up, they haven't cleaned up the metal, the trash, the stuff in the trees that could fall and hurt somebody — it's still an immediate life-safety threat," Helmick said.
A "statement of dangerous conditions," attached to the notice sent to the owner, lists severe damage to the roof, walls, framing and interior, as well as a large amount of trash, debris and other abandoned items, as descriptions of defects.
Helmick also said there have been reports of people trespassing in the unsecured property and possibly stealing and squatting there, which is partially what brought it to their attention.
The dangerous building declaration was sent to the owner Thursday. According to city code, the owner has 15 days to comply and make some progress on the building, such as cleaning and securing it or acquiring a building or demolition permit.
"We have to allow the owner a chance, in writing, to make the repairs before we step in and do it for them," Helmick said.
If no action is taken in those 15 days, the city will clean up the property, post "No Trespassing" signs, and board the doors and windows. The building will then stay that way until an administrative hearing is held to determine the future of the property.
At the hearing, the owner would have an opportunity to provide evidence the property is no longer dangerous. A hearing officer would then decide what should be done.
If the hearing officer agrees with the city that the property remains a danger and the city followed the proper procedures, they will order the property owner to do something with the property. With the property at 1716 Four Seasons Drive, Helmick said the city is recommending demolition, but the owner would have the option to repair if they chose.
The city would also apply a tax lien to the property at that point.
As of July 22, the city has resumed normal code enforcement, including in the tornado-affected area, for things such as accumulation of brush and debris, tall weeds and dangerous buildings.
Code violations typically receive either a 10 or 30 day notice — 10 days for nuisance violations like tall weeds, trash accumulation or conditions that could harbor rats, snakes or other vermin, and 30 days for issues that may take more time to fix, like roof damage, or that aren't an immediate danger.
The total number of violations in the 3-mile disaster area since the May 22 event is 341, Helmick said.
There have been 52 for trash and outdoor storage, 31 security violations (such as buildings not being secure against unauthorized entry), 181 for weeds and vegetation more than 12 inches tall, 66 for exterior maintenance violations (such as broken windows, missing shingles, etc.), and 11 referral violations that could include junked vehicles or illegal parking.
Of those, 254 were taken care of by the property owners, 10 were solved through abatement, or city resources, 11 are open violations, and 66 are in violation but corrective action has started or permits for action have been obtained. Helmick said once the time limits on the 11 open violations run out, the city will determine if progress has been made or if an abatement is needed.
Between Nov. 1, 2018, and Oct. 31, 2019, the city issued a total of 5,323 violations, with 96.83 percent resident compliance.
For severely damaged properties, once the owner has a building or demolition permit, that gives them more time to correct the violation without penalty. When a violation is posted, owners typically have 10 days to correct nuisance violations, or 30 days for fixes that may take more time or require permits.
With a building permit, a time-frame to commence action on a property can be anywhere from 30-90 days.
"As long as they're making continual progress without any unnecessary delays, the city definitely can work with them on those time frames," Helmick said.
But for properties where no work or cleanup has started, the city can't be as lenient.
"We try to work with people to give them as much time as possible, but a lot of this stuff could be corrected without having to get permits, without insurance settlements — they can clean up the debris, they can secure it, all while they're working with their insurance company," he said.
As of last week, the city has also created a "Dangerous Buildings" page on the city website, so members of the public can view a list of the buildings that are declared dangerous, along with packets including what the dangers are as well as information and photos of the properties.
The packets also include dates for scheduled hearings and results of any previous hearings on the property.
As of Friday evening, there were nine properties on the list, with 1716 Four Seasons Drive being the newest and only tornado-damaged property.
Other properties are 1001 Washington St., 827 E. High St., 1421 St. Mary's Blvd., 310 E. Ashley St., 1324 E. Miller St., 108 Jackson St., 519 E. Capitol Ave. and 422 E. High St.
Helmick said they created the page to provide the information to residents. He said the department commonly gets calls from people who are concerned about properties, or who may not understand how long the process can take with a dangerous property, such as the hearing process mentioned above.
He plans to keep the list as up to date as possible — adding and removing properties as they become dangerous or are no longer dangerous.
"It's really just to be transparent, and also make it a little easier for citizens to see what's going on with properties," Helmick said. "Then, as well, know that we are actually listening to their concerns, and we're doing everything we can to get these properties moving along."