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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sedgwick County marks 16 Oaklawn houses ‘unsafe to occupy’

By Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County leaders say they want Oaklawn to rebuild after an April 14 tornado tore up much of it, but they want to make sure people do so safely.

The county plans to issue stop-work orders at three houses because permits hadn’t been sought and structural engineers hadn’t inspected the properties. Workers at one of the properties had applied for a permit, but the property hadn’t been checked by an engineer.

Rebuilding “needs to be done in a right and safe way,” public safety director Bob Lamkey told commissioners Tuesday morning.

The county has marked 16 houses as unsafe to occupy. Nine were marked with red placards, which means no access to the property is allowed, and seven were marked with orange placards, where only limited access is allowed. On May 9, the county gave owners notice that they have 30 days to either demolish the property or begin repair work.

Of the houses, 14 are rental properties, one is in foreclosure and one is being purchased by the occupant in a rent-to-own situation, Lamkey said.

The houses appear to be structurally unsound, Lamkey said.

Repairs to any houses marked red or orange “are going to require a structural engineer to look at them to have permits pulled before repairs can begin.”

At one of the properties, workers were putting on a new roof; at another, they were installing new siding and windows; and at another, they were replacing a wall.

“We have no information that any competent engineering review was done on those houses,” Lamkey said. “Only one had applied for a permit, but none of them had the structural engineer release. We asked to put a stop-work notice on them.”

Houses marked red or orange have 30 days to start the permit process. At the end of 30 days, “absent any action,” Lamkey said, the county can demolish the property and bill the owner.

“If they start the permitting process, that’s a good thing. If they get ahold of their own insurance for demolition, that’s a good thing. If people ignore the process, county has the authority to demolish and then seek recompense from the owner.

“We really want people to move along with the process,” he said.

The county sent certified and first-class letters to property owners.

DeAnn Konkel, community liaison program manager for the county, said “a good number” of the homes in question are owned by the same people.

Property owners are beginning to receive settlements from their insurance agencies, Konkel said, and work is picking up in the area.

“I noticed a lot more construction going on yesterday than last week,” she said Tuesday.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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