The City of Bellingham has sued Steven K. Baker, the owner of the properties, over the conditions and even spent $38,863 to clean up the yards in February 2015.
Officials sent Baker notices and citations – requiring him to clean up the mess and make the houses, which have been condemned, safe for habitation or tear them down.
Baker has done neither, officials said. So the city has decided to spend up to $150,000 to tear down the houses and for cleanup – city officials said the properties posed a public health threat and were a public nuisance.
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The city has said it will try to recoup the expenses for doing so. Baker will retain ownership of the properties.
On July 28, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis approved the demolition, according to court documents.
On Monday, the Bellingham City Council sped up the pace by declaring an emergency so a contractor could be hired sooner for the work.
Council member Roxanne Murphy said some in the community may believe the city’s actions were “drastic” before explaining why Bellingham officials were taking such steps.
“It’s detrimental to neighborhoods to have properties like this. It harms the neighborhood. There’s rodent problems. There’s all kinds of trash,” Murphy said. “It hurts the property owners that surround it but also it’s not healthy for people that own the property or live there.”
The properties have a host of problems, according to court documents filed by the city in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Holes in the roofs allowed rain in, as did old windows. The roofs also were unstable. At 2512 Lynn St., the porch was starting to collapse and the exterior walls were decaying.
Neither house has garbage, water or sewer service, according to the city.
Neighbors have complained of an “overwhelming” smell of mold at both addresses; rats going in and out of the falling-down houses, as well as other rodents, and spreading into neighboring homes; and of danger posed by possible fire or collapse of the dilapidated houses.
“Mr. Baker’s immediate neighbors can only be described as being at wit’s end with the situation,” the city said in court documents.
The Bellingham Fire Marshal and the Whatcom County Health Department also have expressed concern, the latter with “public health risks associated with the proliferation of rats and rodents at the properties.”
Baker couldn’t be reached for comment.
But in a December 2015 hand-written letter to Mayor Kelli Linville, he stated: “Your eagerness to destroy my houses is rather misguided.”
He said the houses were being fixed – although city officials indicated they had no records of permits for repairs – and accused the city of violating federal law and city policy.
“Cease and desist,” Baker wrote. “Don’t make this even worse.”