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A recent report to the City of Eden Prairie shed light on empty houses. Some vacant homes are empty because of sales to developers, a buildings inspector said.

While the term "abandoned home" may bring to mind haunted houses at the end of an eerie lane, the reality is usually fairly mundane.

Eden Prairie buildings inspector Kevin Schmieg gave a report on Eden Prairie's abandoned and vacant homes to the City Council on July 16, at the request of the council. Here's what he shared:

How many EP homes are abandoned or vacant?

Around eight, Schmieg said; most are "very well maintained." While the city doesn't have an official registry of abandoned or vacant homes, the buildings inspections department learns of these properties based on complaints submitted by the community or inquiries from prospective buyers. There are abandoned or vacant homes on the following roads: 

  • Eden Prairie Road
  • Staring Lane East
  • Green Ridge
  • Heritage Road
  • Kristie Lane
  • Pioneer Trail
  • Sunnybrook Road
  • Hennepin Town Road

What's the difference between abandoned and vacant?

An abandoned home is one that's been empty for a while and is no longer maintained, with no viable restoration — usually due to fire damage or because it's on land slated for development, Schmieg said. A vacant home is much more common, especially in Minnesota's "snow bird" communities: It may be empty in the short- or long-term, but it's well-maintained for the most part. Vacant homes may be due to a military deployment, job relocation, pending sales, foreclosures, or because the home is an investment or vacation property, Schmieg said.

What can the city do about an abandoned/vacant property?

Building inspectors do drive-bys to look for safety issues, Schmieg said. They need a warrant to enter a home, but they can make observations from the street or front door and request a warrant based on that. Most vacant or abandoned homes aren't hazards; the biggest concern is the neighborhood's appearance, Schmieg said, so inspectors will look into complaints of tall grass or ordinance violations that would make a home seem uncared for. 

"We have the outliers that cause the problems," Schmieg told the council.

In 2018, the city recorded 173 ordinance violations and issued 19 citations, down from 187 violations and 19 citations in 2017, Schmieg told the City Council. He categorized violators into a few groups: 

  • Homeowners who know they have repair issues but don't have the money to fix them;
  • Homeowners who don't realize they have a problem;
  • Homeowners who procrastinate on repairs;
  • Homeowners who don't care about their property's appearance; and
  • Developers who plan to use the property for another use in the future.

After the presentation, some council members expressed a desire for the city to be more proactive on abandoned homes. Council member Kathy Nelson suggested a time limit on how long houses can be boarded up, and City Council member Mark Freiberg wondered if abandoned properties could be hazardous to children.

"The council really wants to empower you with the hand of the law to do whatever we can to protect our residents," Mayor Ron Case said. "What else can we be doing?"

How can homeowners get help?

Because the reason for a neglected property is often financial strain, inspectors frequently work with homeowners to fix up a broken door or busted siding. Jeanne Karschnia is the city's housing programs administrator and runs the Rehab Home Loan program, which gives loans of up to $20,000 to homeowners to cover the cost of fixing up their property. Families must earn under a yearly income determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and after 20 years, if they still live in that same property, their loan is forgiven.

In 2018, 25 people in Eden Prairie participated in the Rehab Home Loan program, Karschnia said, which is a typical number. Around four or five people are referred to the program by city inspectors every year, she added. Most used the loans to fix windows, doors, or siding, but Karschnia recalled some property owners who used the program to shore up a retaining wall in danger of collapse.

"It's a great program and we're able to help Eden Prairie residents keep up their homes," Karschnia said.

Eden Teller is the multimedia reporter for Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about fostering productive conversations and empowering communities. When she's not reporting, she can be found reading a book, on a hike or tackling home improvement projects.

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