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Unfit premises: Federal Way pursues rat-infested foreclosure | Slideshow
Federal Way will test a new city code on a trash-laden abandoned house that sits in ownership limbo.
In May, the city's "unfit building" code was amended to include unfit premises. Federal Way code enforcement will apply this revised ordinance for the first time to a foreclosed property at 3304 SW 340th Place.
The sizable patch of rain-soaked debris in the vacant home's front yard includes cans, bottles, shoes, busted appliances, ripped carpeting, clothes, a sofa, a TV and a crib crammed with junk. Neighbors have complained about the ugly mess attracting rats and critters as well as shady people who pick through the pile. (see a slideshow)
With the property qualifying under the city's "dangerous and unfit premises" ordinance, Federal Way is taking the necessary legal steps before a contractor can clean the yard. It will take a minimum of 30 days, barring any appeals, before the city can obtain the legal authority to clear the debris from the private property.
Code enforcement officer Greg Vause presented the case to a hearing examiner Nov. 29 at City Hall, but no one showed up on behalf of the property. Technically, the former owner — a private citizen — is still responsible despite already being asked to leave the house because of foreclosure.
Right now, the property's ownership is in transition, and a bank will eventually take possession (the bank's name could not be confirmed as of press time).
The city will place a tax lien on the property. Once the bank takes full ownership, Federal Way taxpayers will be able to recoup the costs. The amended law allows Federal Way to impose a lien on the property in order to collect the debt.
As far as unfit premises in Federal Way, the property on SW 340th Place is among the worst violators, Vause said.
"We always try to get compliance from the responsible party," he said, describing the legal process. He noted that it's far cheaper for the owners to clean the property themselves, rather than the cleanup becoming the responsibility of local government.
The amended ordinance was created to save time and money. It costs about $1,500 per hearing to bring each case before the hearing examiner, according to the city.
City code 1.15.175 defines dangerous or unfit premises as:
• Containing trash, garbage, junk, old wood, building materials, appliances, etc., that may attract rats or other vermin due to a food source or rodent harborage.
• Having unsecured vehicles, machinery or equipment that are otherwise unused or inoperable.
• Having hazardous conditions such as sinkholes, exposed underground vaults/pipes/wires or trenches, for example.
• Having dilapidated fences, sheds, carports or other structures that pose a hazard or "attractive nuisance."
• Having more than 50 percent of the area covered in blackberry bushes or other noxious weeds.