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Fargo homeowners have new tools to combat blighted properties

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Dawn Morgan2 / 2

FARGO — A few months ago, a dilapidated home near the 12th Avenue North bridge that had become a home for wild animals was finally razed after years of complaints from neighbors.

Bruce Taralson, who runs Fargo's Inspections Department, said the owner learned he was the target of a bench warrant to bring him to court to force the building's removal so he took care of the problem.

It's an example of the city's renewed focus on getting blighted properties cleaned up faster, spurred by conversations Mayor Tim Mahoney has had with neighborhood groups, he said.

These groups have complained for years about dilapidated homes and junk-filled yards, often owned by negligent landlords. But the city's process has, in many cases, allowed owners to stall for time.

What's different now is two tools that have become available, according to Dawn Morgan, president of the Fargo Neighborhood Coalition and a member of the Planning Commission.

The first tool is a Code Enforcement Task Force that coordinates responses from all city departments, from Taralson's Inspections Department to the City Attorney's Office. The group is expected to meet once a month and seek advice from a citizen advisory board.

The city has had a task force, and Taralson was a member, but it was allowed to wither away about a decade ago.

The second tool is an agreement between the city and Fargo Neighborhood Coalition that allows the coalition to file complaints on behalf of city residents.

Many residents just prefer to avoid conflict, Morgan said, but there have been reports of landlords threatening physical harm to residents who have complained or their families. Landlords have even threatened to poison pets, she said.

The city has given the coalition complaint forms that prompt complainants to provide key information such as the address of the building, the owner, the nature of a violation and whether the property is rented out, she said.

The coalition's core members are older neighborhoods surrounding downtown, but Morgan said all residents are welcome to participate.

According to the city, the task force typically will handle nuisance issues such as blighted residential and commercial properties, substandard housing, over-occupied rental properties, junk, weeds and signs that don't conform to city codes.

Complaints often go to the Inspections Department first because they usually pertain to a building's appearance, according to Taralson. The task force structure makes it easier to consult with other departments and delegate tasks that his department isn't equipped to handle.

For example, a complaint about a dilapidated home might involve enforcement of building codes by the Inspections Department. The Public Health Department might get involved if there's junk in the yard, which can harbor rodents and other vermin. The City Attorney's Office would file suit against the owner if no action is taken. The Police Department might be called in to help with enforcement.

Morgan said the overall goal is to prevent property values in neighborhoods from spiralling downwards because a few homes have been allowed to deteriorate. She said that's happened in parts of the Jefferson neighborhood, where she lives, when slumlords buy homes to rent out but fail to keep up with maintenance.

To file a complaint with the coalition, contact fargoneighborhoodcoalition@gmail.com or (701) 297-9379 with the address of the problem property and alleged violations.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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