County plans to tear down vacant houses that threaten property values, public safety

Abandoned houses in Horry County are an eyesore and hurt property values, says county councilman who plan on doing something about it.
Abandoned houses in Horry County are an eyesore and hurt property values, says county councilman who plan on doing something about it.

The Horry County Council is moving forward to give itself the authority to tear down abandoned houses in bankruptcy and unfit dwellings to get rid of eyesores they say pose a safety hazard and threaten property values.

The agreement comes after months of debate on the extent of their powers, which does not include commercial property, and whether old family farm structures would be in danger of demolishment.

A newly proposed ordinance this week says that every building targeted for razing must first go before the full county council for a vote. The ordinance targets uninhabitable private dwellings, and does not include barns.

“It could be a foreclosed home that people just walked away from, and the foreclosing lender has not put any money into maintaining the property,” said Randy Haldi deputy Horry County attorney.

“It could be property that was partially destroyed by fire or some accident, and the property owner didn't have funds to make repairs and kind of walked away,” Haldi said.

Some councilmen expressed concerns about how the process for identifying such properties will work, and what will trigger a complaint.

County officials say they would not actively search for problem properties, but would investigate after complaints from neighbors.

Steve Gosnell, assistant county administrator, said there has been an uptick in complaints over the past three months.

“Most of them are coming from the county council, who receive complaints,” Gosnell said.

Once a property is investigated and found to be in violation of the ordinance, the county would issue an order compelling the property owner to fix or demolish the property. If they decline, the county will have the power to do so.

Before the county steps in to demolish property, the council will be notified before it comes up for a vote.

“What this does is, it gives the county council an opportunity to understand which properties within their district may be affected, and then gives you all notice,” Haldi said.

A fund would be set up to pay for the county work using some money from community development block grants, said Chris Eldridge, county administrator.

Those funds would be recouped through tax liens or property transfers.

The newly rewritten ordinance received a preliminary nod from the Infrastructure and Regulations Committee Tuesday, and now goes to the full county council for three readings before the ordinance is established.

The proposal has been under discussion for months, but became bogged down over the inclusion of commercial property and broad powers over private property.

Under state law, only municipalities have the power to demolish commercial property.

The first ordinance was voted down in September by 10-2, so that its intent and wording could be reworked.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson