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A house on Broad Street recently declared a public nui­sance by the city of Hillsdale.
(Photo: Google Maps)

An esti­mated 63.2 percent of Hillsdale’s houses were built before 1960, according to a 2016 report by the Michigan Vacant Property Cam­paign, meaning keeping the houses around the city in good shape is costly to the city.

The Hillsdale Code Enforcement and Inspec­tions department pre­vents houses from falling into dilap­i­dation by enforcing the Inter­na­tional Property Main­te­nance Checklist, a two-page list of common housing vio­la­tions, and through use and occu­pancy permits.

“The idea is to call out minor housing issues with expec­ta­tions to fix them. We either act on neighbor com­plaints or obser­vation, and we give tenants three warnings before citing civil infrac­tions,” Hillsdale Assessor Kim Thomas said.

Hillsdale requires houses to have a use and occu­pancy permit, renewed every two years by a Hillsdale Fire Department inspection. The permit can be revoked if property owners do not address city com­plaints.

If revoked, the tenants have to vacate the building, and the property owner can’t rent until the problems are fixed, and they get a new permit.

“This only happens when things have reached the point that no one is being coop­er­ative, and no one is doing any­thing about the issue — it’s used as a last step,” Alan Beeker, Hillsdale Zoning Admin­is­trator said.

Houses declared public nui­sances are usually unoc­cupied, and are given a period of time in which the owner must repair or demolish the house. Thomas said public nui­sances can cause problems to adjacent prop­erties, and detract from neigh­borhood property value.

“Public nui­sance is when the structure has become not only a lia­bility for the tenants, but also for those around it,” Beeker said.

Once the city declares a house a public nui­sance, Hillsdale offi­cials gives the owner a time frame either to fix the building or demolish it.

“We have no problem with someone wanting to repair a structure and make it hab­itable again; in fact, we would prefer it over an empty lot. But, it has to be done according to state building code,” Beeker said.

If the owner does nothing, he will be ordered by a judge to take care of the problem, and, upon non­action, the city will act to repair or demolish it.

“If your neighbor doesn’t take care of his house, then you start to be less willing to take care of your own. It’s the idea that one bad apple spoils the bushel, and as that grows, you reach entire blighted neigh­bor­hoods — it’s a domino effect, as seen in Detroit,” Thomas said.