Owners of five houses that have been a haven for vagrants and drug users are on notice from the city of Medford that they're about to face foreclosure notice.
A house at 205 Chestnut St. in west Medford has been vacant since May 10, 2013, when a fire gutted the structure. Since then the city has attempted to get the owner to do something about the house, but it continues to annoy neighbors and police.
"It's an eyesore," said neighbor Robin Antognazzi. "It needs to be torn down."
The Chestnut house is on the city's list of the "worst of the worst" properties, all of which face possible City Council action in March that could force the owners to demolish or improve them within six months, or the city will foreclose on them.
"We're going to start with a little hammer with the first notice, and then a bigger hammer with the second notice," said Sam Barnum, Medford Building Department director.
Barnum said the five properties, which he referred to as the "worst of the worst," will be a test for a new city ordinance designed to deal with blight. Under the new city code, adopted by the council in November, owners must repair boarded-up windows and doors within six months.
City Council has expressed concern about the number of blighted houses in the city, and previous efforts to deal with them, including the Chestnut house, have not always proved effective.
Antognazzi, 44, said she bought her house a little over a year ago and has noticed people coming and going from the dilapidated house across Chestnut, with flashlights inside the house occasionally visible at night.
"That was a meth house before it blew up," she said.
Another property next door to Antognazzi's was also a meth house, she said, but new owners have been fixing it up.
Other nuisance properties on the city's list include 1530 W. Main St., 540 Midway Road, 2690 Connell Ave. and 911 Queen Anne Ave.
"All these properties got an initial notice of violation," Barnum said.
The city has been keeping an inventory of boarded-up residential properties and has a list of 31 that it may take action on in the future, but addressing the five worst houses will give city officials a better idea how the receivership process works.
"This will be a learning curve for everybody," Barnum said. "We want to start off slowly."
The city compiled a list of 17 other properties that have had liens placed on them because the city removed garbage or other debris.
The City Council last week approved foreclosure on 12 of the properties but removed five houses from the list either because someone was living in them or because the liens were for $1,000 or less, according to Alison Chan, the city's finance director.
The Chestnut property is at the top of this list, as well, with the owner owing the city $7,918.75 plus $5,528.67 in interest for previous work to clean up the property or to board it up.
Other properties on the list are at 343 Grape St., 400 S. Peach St., 402 Emerald Circle, 637 Pennsylvania Ave., 911 Queen Anne Ave., 943 Winchester Ave., 1016 W. 11th St., 1044 W. 12th St., 1212 W. 10th St., 2539 Delta Waters Road and 2739 Merriman Road.
The amounts owed to the city range from just over $1,000 up to almost $8,000, with many in debt for several years.
Properties the council took off the list because they were inhabited or because the amount owed was less than $1,000 include 119 Chestnut St., 515 West 11th St., 696 Shadow Wood Dr., 1042 West 11th St. and 1914 Prune St.
— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.