Action 13: W. Bellfort Avenue property debris set to be cleared out months after illegal demolition

Daniela Hurtado Image
Saturday, February 3, 2024
Nuisance property debris to be cleared months after illegal demolition
Houston property owner at W. Bellfort and South Post Oak, where an unpermitted demolition occurred, is being cited again for unlicensed cleanup.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Action 13 has been working all week to get a southwest Houston neighborhood answers about the debris sitting for months from an illegally demolished building.

The city confirms the rubble left behind is a hazard and that it is the responsibility of the property owners to clean it up. Still, after days of trying to find them, the city is cleaning it up themselves and putting a lien on the property for the abatement.

The Houston Department of Neighborhoods said crews should clear the debris within the week.

When ABC13 and SkyEye13 showed up at the debris site on W. Bellfort Avenue and South Post Oak, a contractor hired by the property owner was already beginning the cleanup.

Here's the thing: through an ABC13 investigation, our team tracked down the property owners. In a conversation over the phone on Thursday night, ABC13 told them the city was looking to talk to them about their property. They claim their contractor was going to go out to the debris site on Jan. 10 to finish the work they started in November.

SEE MORE: Illegally demolished building on W. Bellfort Avenue raises questions

When ABC13 asked why there was a months-long gap and why they went ahead with the demolition without a green light from the city, they told Action 13 their contractors had the permit paperwork and ultimately hung up on us.

On Friday morning, contractors on site told Action 13 that the property owners hired them to clean up the mess. When asked on-site if they were the same contractors hired to do the demolition in November, the contractors denied to Action 13 about being a part of that.

The city told ABC13 that the contractor hired by the property owner had not applied for permits to remove the debris, so work had to stop on Friday morning. The Department of Neighborhoods, in an email on Friday evening, confirmed to ABC13 that they asked the contractors hired by the property owners to stop clearing the debris and return when they procure proper permits. The Houston Department of Public Works confirms with Action 13 that the property owners will be cited again on Friday evening for attempting to clear the debris without city permits.

"It's been a pile of rubble for a couple months now," neighbor Elizabeth Lutz said on Monday when ABC13 first released information on the community's concerns.

"We need to see some type of resolution here," Houston Councilwoman Abbie Kamin, who represents the district, said. She added that her office has also been working to have the issue fixed and have fencing put up.

Kamin and neighbors like Lutz expressed concern about the hazard this posed.

Larry Schwartz said he and other neighbors have been calling 311 about this since the end of last year.

"(It's) a disaster with all sorts of debris," Schwartz said.

Things may look the same on the corner of W. Bellfort and South Post Oak as piles of rebar, wood, and pieces of concrete remain, except what's different now is Action 13 received this statement after pushing for answers and action from the Houston Department of Neighborhoods.

"The Department of Neighborhoods has expedited the process for the removal of debris left behind after the illegal demolition at 4904 W. Bellfort Avenue. We are procuring a contractor to clear the lot within the next week, and a lien will be placed on the property for the cost of the abatement. Property owners are responsible for compliance with city codes. This includes securing permits for construction and demolition. When property owners fail to comply and the city must step in to remove hazards, the cost comes at the expense of taxpayers, dollars that could have been used for other code enforcement efforts.The issuance of permits and the enforcement of city codes pertaining to dangerous commercial and multi-family structures is handled by Houston Public Works. Nuisances on single-family residential property and vacant lots such as trash, debris, and high grass are handled by the Department of Neighborhoods.The public is urged to report suspected code violations to 311 as the city's protocol for service requests. Requests are referred by 311 to the appropriate departments for processing in the order received."

"Very happy that someone is taking action to clean up the debris. Hopefully, they can also secure it with construction fencing," Schwartz said on Friday afternoon.

All week, city departments told ABC13 that the debris's cleanup falls on the property owner's responsibility, an owner the city hadn't been able to track down, so they took matters into their own hands to fix the issue.

Action 13 sifted through county and city records and even found a liquor license with a potential owner's name left at the debris site. ABC13 made countless calls, and that's how we tracked down the property owners to ask them what was happening.

ABC13 even flagged the city to let them know we had found them. On Friday evening, the Department of Neighborhoods confirmed it attempted to reach the owner, and he was unavailable.

The owners have yet to be open to going on camera about this to explain what happened. They told ABC13 over the phone that their contractors got a demolition permit.

The city, however, has no record of that.

The Department of Neighborhoods confirms it will monitor the situation and continue to reach out to the owner for confirmation that his contractors will clean the lot and a timeframe for completion.

"If no reasonable progress is made, the city may proceed with an abatement and placement of a lien on the property," the department's communications team said in an email on Friday afternoon.

Kamin, in a statement on Friday afternoon, said:

"As my office continues to work on behalf of the residents with our city departments to address this dangerous demolitioned area, I am grateful the departments and Mayor's staff are taking aggressive efforts to hold the property owner accountable."

The councilwoman confirmed her office submitted requests to have the property cleaned up and secured with a fence by the city.

On Friday afternoon, Action 13 went to the office headquarters listed for the property owners. Workers told ABC13 they would get back to us about this matter on Friday, but they have yet to.

Even though ABC13 was first told this would be cleared within a week, a new statement from the Department of Neighborhoods in our newsroom on Friday evening doesn't indicate a clear timeline as they await the owners to take action and acquire permits.

Their full statement:

"As I indicated, property owners are responsible for maintaining their properties in compliance with city codes. Our inspections team always aims for getting owners to comply with city codes because abatements by city contractors come at the expense of taxpayer dollars. When owners fail to comply, corrective action by the city is the next step. Our inspections team is monitoring the situation closely, and we are seeking to get assurance from the property owner that the debris on the lot will be cleared with urgency and expedience."

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