The Hidden Dangers Behind the Walls of Abandoned Homes

LUBBOCK, TX - For more than 40 years, Wilma Riegel has lived in her central Lubbock home near 28th street and Indiana. She says she has always loved where she lives, with the exception of the eerie view from her bedroom window.

Next door is a home that has been vacant for seven years now. Riegel says it was once filled with a large family, with children constantly running through and cars parked outside in the drive way. Today it stands as an empty shell with broken windows and trash scattered in front of the door. 

"It has been a nice house, yes" said Riegel. "I wish it was not there, or that it was occupied or something. I think it would decrease the value of the house living next to something like that."  

The City of Lubbock's Codes department spends around $75,000 in tax payer dollars a year to tear down these abandoned homes, but as the city and maybe some citizens seem to agree, it's worth getting rid of the eyesores and the safety hazards that surround the buildings. Each demolition costs between four to $5,000, depending on the building's square footage. 

"A lot of times, you'll see kids going in and out of them, or vagrants using them for shelter. We identify those houses both by inspectors out in the field or upon complaints from the neighborhood," said Stuart Walker with the City of Lubbock Code Enforcement.

Walker explained the process begins when the codes department presents each case (house/building) at municipal court. Since October, 34 cases have been presented. So far, 13 homes of the 34 cases have been demolished this year.

Once approved by municipal court, it can take anywhere between 30 to 90 days for the home to get demolished. Walker's department hires private contractors to tear the buildings down. Once approved for demolition, the houses are placed on a bidding list to see how much the contractors will choose to demolish them for.

Walker says although the process is tedious and long, that the city is willing to slow down under the exception that someone will want to come forward and take responsibility for the house.

"Our goal isn't to demolish the houses, it's to get them back in livable condition, to preserve the housing stock of the city of Lubbock," said Walker, who explained that the codes department encourages more people to flip the houses or try to do something with the property and will work with whomever to make sure it's completely handed over to them before demolition. 

However, more than just eyesores, the abandoned buildings posses several hidden safety hazards. While the house may have been vacant for years, it can become a temporary shelter to homeless persons and animals trying to escape the elements.

In addition to house fires that displace families, Lubbock Fire Rescue also has to risk their lives running into fires of abandoned buildings to make sure no one is inside. 

Captain Kevin Ivy with the Lubbock Fire Department explains that even though there's no electricity running through the buildings, there are dozens of fire hazards that lurk within the walls. 

"The upkeep is not as good, so they're a lot weaker structures. So a lot of the protection, the drywall, the windows have been knocked out," said Cpt. Ivy. "So that actually promotes growth of a fire and makes it a lot more dangerous for us to actually go in and look for somebody." 

"The main reason why we want to identify these properties and get them taken care of is just to make sure that nobody gets in these places and that no one gets hurts," said Walker. "They're not being used for illegal activity drug use or anything like that." 

Now that the house next to Riegel has been placed on a bidding list, it could be just a matter of a couple of months before the abandoned building she's lived next to for years is completely gone. However, she says the day can't come quick enough.

"Just knowing that it's vacant, it's kinda scary to have an empty house and know that windows are broken and cats are going in and out, so people can go in and out," said Riegel. "Do something about it!" 


If there's an abandoned building near you that you would like the city to inspect, contact the codes department at 806-775-3000. 

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