Finding absentee owners

Merely finding the owners of rundown buildings that ought to be demolished can be quite a chore. Ask virtually any mayor or city manager in the Ohio Valley.

For any number of reasons, those who own abandoned and dilapidated structures in our area often live in other cities across the region — or even in other states. Often people inherit property from relatives who have lived here. The heirs may never have seen these sites, and they frequently have no emotional attachment to the land or the structures.

Factor in that the value of the properties may not be very high, and the new owners have little reason to pay attention to them.

Other people may acquire properties at auction, again without ever seeing them, then learn that their plans to profit from their purchase may not be very realistic. Once again, they have little motivation to maintain or improve those properties.

This has proven to be the case all across the Ohio Valley — on both sides of the Ohio River and in cities, villages and townships. Local leaders in Steubenville, Wheeling, Martins Ferry and in smaller communities such as Neffs and Colerain all have dealt with this issue. And, despite their efforts, they frequently end up paying for demolition of dangerous properties using local funding.

When such absentee owners can be found, they often cannot afford the expense of tearing down the dilapidated buildings they own.

But Bellaire Police Chief Richard “Dick” Flanagan, who also is involved in code enforcement work, seems to have some talent for the process. During the past year, he has overseen destruction of 16 problem buildings – all at the expense of their owners.

“It did not cost the taxpayers dime one,” Flanagan said.

In addition, Flanagan noted the Belmont County “land bank” has accepted about seven Bellaire properties and will help raze those dilapidated structures. But Flanagan is most proud of the properties that have come down at the owners’ expense.

Flanagan will travel, if necessary, to find absentee owners of property in Bellaire. His approach seems to work.

Perhaps municipal officials in other towns and cities should see if they can pick up a few pointers from Flanagan.