Vacant homes in Indy: Your questions answered

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INDIANAPOLIS — Brian Madison, director of the city’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services (BNS), formerly called the Department of Code Enforcement, answers common questions about how vacant, dilapidated houses are addressed.

Q: If a home near me is vacant and in poor condition, what should I do?

A: Contact BNS to report the issue. Check back on a regular basis with the department and the Mayor’s Action Center for status updates.

If the condition of the property changes after the initial report, notify the city. Was there a house fire? Is structural damage getting worse? That information could change the city’s decision about how the property should be handled.

If the issue goes beyond just the condition of the property to a public safety issue — criminal activity or squatters, for example — contact IMPD.

Q: After I report a vacant home, what happens next?

A: The city sends an inspector to the property to evaluate the seriousness of the problem. If the home has significant structural or foundation issues, a demolition order typically follows. If the problems are fixable, a repair order is issued to the owner.

If the property owner ignores the repair order, fines will be issued. If those penalties are not paid, a lien is issued on the property. Ultimately, if the issue remains unresolved, the property will be sold in a tax sale.

Q: Repair or demolish: How do inspectors decide?

A: Inspectors use a very specific formula. The property’s issues are all taken into consideration, but issues are ranked and scored based on their seriousness. The property’s overall score determines what fines, penalties and orders will be issued.

Generally, a demolition order indicates that a property’s structural integrity is compromised beyond repair. If the issue is not aesthetically pleasing but does not cause rapid deterioration of the structure — missing gutters or downspouts, for example — that generates a repair order.

Q: What’s the best way to keep track of progress on a specific property?

A: Go to the Citizens Access Portal to search for information and updates on specific properties. Have repair orders been issued, and if so how many? What is the status of those orders?

The portal is also a place to find out if circumstances have changed. A property that was initially deemed repairable might later be slated for demolition.

Why does the process take so long?

After a vacant property is reported, it could be two years before you’ll see a resolution. The law requires specific, methodical steps to be taken before a property can be seized from the owner. Change will happen, but the process isn’t quick.

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