Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
A debate over property rights took center stage at the November meeting of the Franklin Town Council when concerns were expressed regarding a vacant home on Bidwell Street.
In 2017, neighbors near the home located at 373 West Main Street, at the beginning of Bidwell Street, signed a petition urging the town of Franklin to do something to address the dilapidated structure. The home has sat vacant for several years; windows have been broken or vandalized and replaced by boards. The yard is rarely maintained and is often overgrown.
“As a resident of Bidwell, the house is an eye-sore,” said Franklin resident Andrew Raby. Raby is also a member of the Franklin Planning Board. “From a legal standpoint, the house has several violations which concern me when looking at the town of Franklin’s minimum housing ordinance. While I want homeowners to feel secure in their rights as property owners within the city limits, at some point you have to look at it from a safety point for the entire neighborhood, and I believe we are at that point.”
After the required signatures were affixed to the petition in 2017, the town of Franklin notified the owner of the property, Max Houston, of the complaint and steps he needed to take to be in compliance with town building code standards.
The Town of Franklin’s Minimum Housing Ordinance specifically states, “The roofs, flashings, exterior walls, basement walls, floors and all doors and windows exposed to the weather shall be constructed and maintained so as to be weathertight and watertight.”
Since first being notified in 2017, Houston has not been able to upgrade the house in compliance with the Franklin’s minimum housing ordinance.
In addition to lacking windows and even doors, the property has other apparent issues such as a roof that has partiallly caved in and a chimney that threatens to topple.
The Town of Franklin Police Department, which is located just a few hundred yards from the property, have been called to the home several times to address people trespassing on the property – from drifters seeking shelter inside the home to a woman found living in a tent on the property. No trespassing signs have since been erected, but to no avail.
While on the surface it may appear as if the town has not been taking action on the property, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. informed residents that the town has actually been involved in a civil lawsuit with the property owner since the initial petition was filed.
“The town has been aware of this structure and the situation of it for a long time, and it did go through the administrative procedure for the minimal housing code,” said Henning. “The principle difference with this one is that, unlike those past situations where there was never an answer filed and you were able to default them and get them into a default judgement, the homeowner in this circumstance has retained counsel and answered.”
With previous nuisance properties within the city limits, the town has been able to demolish those homes since they were considered abandoned after the town had notified owners of the issues, notices went unanswered and after the required waiting period.
However, this time, the property owner has countersued and is challenging the case in Macon County Superior Court.