13 Investigates: Residents annoyed by neighbor's 'junk' yard get meeting with El Lago leaders

Friday, June 7, 2024
Residents annoyed by neighbor's 'junk' yard get meeting with city
Residents complained about their neighbor's yard for years. They finally got a meeting with El Lago leaders after 13 Investigates asked questions.

EL LAGO, Texas (KTRK) -- John Ennis said his neighbor stores all sorts of items in her backyard, from paint cans, gasoline cans, and an empty sink basin to rows of wagons and bicycles.

Ennis said he's even noticed his discarded belongings, including an old refrigerator, end up in his neighbor's yard.

"Basically, almost anything that people put out for trash, they grab it and collect it," Ennis said. "We stopped putting our trash out early because I know if I put it out too early, it's just going to end up right behind my house."

Ennis told ABC13 that residents have been complaining about his neighbor to El Lago city officials for years, but it wasn't until 13 Investigates reached out to city leaders that they started to see progress.

Valerie Fisher, who also lives next to the yard filled with loose items, said she is concerned it will become a safety hazard during hurricane season, especially if there's a storm with high winds.

"(The neighbor is) collecting items, and she's putting them in her backyard: old washer and dryers, cat carriers, dog carriers, paint cans. I mean, you name it: bicycles. It's just overdone," Fisher said. "At our home, we have a lot of windows, but there are quite a bit of loose items out there. ... It's uncomfortable."

Ennis is also worried about what might happen with those loose items during a storm.

"All the potential hazards ... all the things that'll go airborne if we get another huge wind event, I'd like to see that cleaned up," Ennis said. "There's junk poking through the fence right now. I'm just worried about things becoming airborne and going right through the windows of my house."

El Lago Mayor Shawn Findley turned down ABC13's request for an interview, but after we reached out to him, he emailed concerned residents that, "BEFORE the news was contacted, the city and PD had taken multiple actions required by law to proceed with corrections."

After residents contacted 13 Investigates in April, we sent open records requests about the property and found that the homeowner had been slapped with 14 code violations since 2018. As of mid-May, the homeowner owed $2,600 in fines.

Ennis said after 13 Investigates began pushing the city for answers, his request for a meeting with the police chief and El Lago city leaders was granted.

Although his neighbor's backyard is still filled with items, Ennis said those items are in what appear to be more organized piles and rows. He said he's hopeful the situation is getting better.

"We finally got the meeting that we were asking for with somebody from the city, somebody from the HOA, and the local police chief, the Lakeview police chief, and all the neighbors," Ennis said. "We definitely like what we heard, and we have noticed that they've definitely ramped up the pressure. They explained that there's a limit to what they can do, but they definitely have gotten more aggressive, and I've seen movement over there. Matter of fact, there's a trailer full now of items that were in the backyard, so it seems like it's going the correct direction out of here."

ABC13 asked to talk to the neighbor, and she finally called us back on June 6.

She told 13 Investigates that she acknowledges the yard was filled with items but says it is clean now and was never "detrimental" to her neighbors.

According to information we obtained through an open records request, on April 30, the homeowner received a letter from the city warning her that if she doesn't bring her property up to code, further legal action, "including the possibility of foreclosure," could come her way.

Ennis also received a summons to appear as a witness in a case against his neighbor. ABC13 asked the attorney representing El Lago for more details about that case, but she has yet to respond.

In a May 23 email, the El Lago attorney told 13 Investigates, "Thank you for your concern regarding this matter. The City is aware of the outstanding issues at this property and is pursuing avenues of relief under the law. At this point in time, there is no information that I may release related to those efforts."

The city never answered our follow-up questions.

For updates on this story, follow Kevin Ozebek on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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