City of Stillwater to demolish chronically dilapidated houses

Michelle Charles/Stillwater News Press After a 20-year battle, two dilapidated houses at 502 and 506 S. Lowry will be demolished on Jan. 11. Owner Danny Amen has received multiple extensions over the years to make repairs and filed multiple requests for injunction to stop the structures from being torn down. 

The City of Stillwater has given notice it plans to have two dilapidated houses demolished in January, ending a dispute with the owner that has played out over more than 20 years.

According to court filings, the City of Stillwater has had concerns about Danny Amen’s homes at 502 and 506 S. Lowry since at least 1999.

Amen has maintained that the properties are structurally sound and he is working on restoring them, but city officials have repeatedly cited holes in the structures and the presence of vermin as concerns.

The structures were also said to have homeless people squatting in them, but in 2019 Amen reported he had secured them to prevent that from happening in the future.

According to City of Stillwater records, at least one of the buildings has not had utility service since 2003.

In 2018, the Stillwater City Council began making an effort to deal with derelict properties in the city.

It demolished a home at 1001 S. Husband St. that had been severely damage by a fire more than two years before. It also passed a city ordinance that allows properties that have been boarded up and under construction for more than 18 months to be declared dilapidated.

That paved the way for the City Council to issue demolition orders for dilapidated and abandoned properties, some of which had been sitting in disrepair for many years.

In May 2019, the Council ordered the owner of an apartment complex at 416 W. Maple St. – referred to by Mayor Will Joyce at the time as “the most complained-about property in Stillwater” – and several other rental properties on the same block to demolish those structures, which were unoccupied, boarded up and had not had utilities connected for several years.

Leading up to the owner’s Aug. 26 demolition deadline, the Stillwater Fire Department responded to three fire calls at the abandoned apartment complex. The buildings were demolished shortly after the deadline.

The Council reviewed eight separate properties, including Amen’s two houses, during a meeting on Aug. 26, 2019 and gave most of the owners until Nov. 1 of that year to have them demolished.

In October 2019, Amen filed a request for injunction in Payne County District Court to prevent the city from tearing his houses down.

He had done the same thing in 2015 to prevent city officials from entering his properties to inspect their condition. The City of Stillwater had ordered Amen to have both structures removed by Nov. 13 of that year but Amen argued that city officials could not know the properties were in bad condition because he had not allowed them inside to make an inspection.

Amen’s 2015 filing referenced attempts by the City of Stillwater to inspect the property going back to 1999. He also referenced a district court action in 2000 and municipal court action in 2013.

Amen stated he bought the properties in 1974 and occupied one of them as his primary residence for 20 years. He claimed to be using the property only as a second home and to have no need of or desire for utilities there.

In his subsequent filing, Amen said the City of Stillwater had provided him with water and electric service at 506 S. Lowry for the past four years.

In Amen’s 2019 filing, he asked for an injunction to stop the demolition order, followed by a jury trial and for “relief freeing him from the recurring efforts by the Defendant periodically to harass and defame Plaintiff concerning such properties.”

He said in spite of major work and effort for years, the City of Stillwater would start proceedings to remove the structures every three or four years over the previous two decades.

In its answer, the City of Stillwater maintained that the structures had been in an advanced state of disrepair since 1999, had been occupied by transients and vagrants, had attracted mice and vermin and had been boarded up for at least 10 years.

It said Amen’s properties have been the source of repeated complaints from adjoining property owners.

Following a July 15 hearing, Judge Stephen R. Kistler found that Amen’s properties had been the subject of nuisance abatement activities in 1999, 2008 and 2015. In 1999 and 2008, he was granted additional time to correct deficiencies.

The 2015 abatement proceeding, which was begun after he failed to make required repairs, was dismissed with the agreement of both parties.

On Aug. 26, 2019 the City Council held a hearing and ordered Amen to have the structures demolished by Jan. 1, 2020. If the removal was not completed by that date, the City Manager was authorized to have the structures demolished and removed.

Amen then filed another request for injunction.

In February, the Court ordered an inspection of the structures and photographs were taken. Based on those photos and the testimony of witnesses, the Court established that the structures had not been occupied for more than 20 years, that both structures had exposed wiring, holes in interior and exterior walls, holes in the floor, holes in the roof and ceiling and had exposure to rodents, insects and vermin, as well as extensive mold and rot and significant water damage.

The structural integrity of each building is compromised, the report concluded.

Judge Kistler denied Amen’s request for injunction and gave him until Nov. 30 to either demolish or move the structures to another location.

Because no action has been taken by Amen, the City of Stillwater will have a contractor demolish the structures and remove them on Jan. 11.

Amen will be held responsible for the $13,831 cost, which will be recorded as a lien on the property if he doesn’t pay it.

The Payne County Treasurer will be responsible for collecting that amount due along with other taxes and the unpaid balance will earn 1.5% interest per month.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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