See why both neighbors – and area transients – say this house has been “shooting gallery” for meth addicts and alcoholics for years. They ask, “Who’s to blame?”
Amidst choking smoke, firefighters battle a fiercely burning blaze at 123 NE 100th Avenue – a house that neighbors call “abandoned” and “troubled”. PF&R photo by Greg Muhr
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Yet another fire, thought to be set by squatters at an abandoned house, really isn’t news to people who live in the outer East Portland area just north of East Burnside Street – along NE 100th Avenue in the Hazelwood neighborhood.
On October 23, about 5:00 p.m., workers at a commercial lithography company on East Burnside Street called the 9-1-1 Center, reporting heavy smoke and flames issuing from the nearby dilapidated structure, known by locals as the “Log Cabin House” because of the style of exterior siding.
Firefighters attack the blaze from outside the outside the house. PF&R photo by Dick Harris
First on-scene was the crew of Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Engine 19.
“When they pulled up, they reported seeing heavy smoke from blocks away, and then, heavy fire showing from all sides of the structure,” PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman said.
Dousing the fire with water while remaining outside the collapsing house, crews put out the fire. PF&R photo by Greg Muhr
“Crews tried to make an interior fire attack, but encountered what they reported to be ‘extreme clutter’, and rotted or missing sections of floor,” Chatman told East Portland News.
After firefighters extinguished the blaze from outside the fire-razed building, PF&R Fire Investigators told Chatman the building was too dangerously degraded to venture inside, he reported.
The following day, the burned rubble still gives off light amounts of smoke.
The following day, wisps of smoke were visible, coming up from the floor joists. The stench of filth, mixed with the smell of burned wood, permeated the air.
A man, who identified himself as a neighbor, was taking a KOIN 6 News videographer for a tour of the area. “We’ve been complaining about this house for years,” he said. Beyond that, he refused to speak with East Portland News, or give his name.
Two self-described homeless men watched and listened to the brief conversation.
“I’ll talk with ya,” said Zeke to us.
“So will I,” added Gus, “but maybe you don’t want to. We live around here, but you can’t really say we’re ‘neighbors’, if you know what I mean.”
Zeke suggested that the transients who frequent the area see more of “what’s really going on” than many of the homeowners.
“I won’t go into [abandoned] houses,” Zeke explained. “It’s just wrong, even if it’s empty. It belongs to someone; but not me. I live in ‘the trees’ near here.
“Even though this house, and the one behind it [a boarded up house at 120 NE 99th Avenue that shares back yards] are boarded up,” Zeke continued, “they just pry off one of the boards and go back inside. It gives ’em a place to shoot up crystal (methamphetamine), and get drunk. It stinks so bad, even I can smell it, from here!”
Gus said he’s seen “people from the City” come “poke around” the two houses. “Someone puts up ‘No Trespass’ signs – like that does a lot of good! I don’t know why they’re not bulldozed.”
Looking in through a side window, we see why Fire Investigators declined to enter the house.
Neighbor wants house torn down
As Zeke and Gus ambled off, another neighbor, Bill Benefield walked up, and looked at the burned house.
“These houses have been a real problem, and for a long time,” Benefield told East Portland News. We keep calling, year after year. This spring, some workers were here and boarded up this house again. But, it seems like [the City’s Bureau of Development Services] could make the owner tear the house down.”
The Portland Bureau of Development Services – in charge of Housing Code enforcement – now shows this house to be an “attractive nuisance”.
Researching Multnomah County Property Records, the house on NE 100th Avenue was originally built in 1929.
Several nuisance complaints have been lodged against the property, ranging from
“HOUSE IS ABANDONED AND IN DISREPAIR AND ATTRACTING TRANSIENTS. YARD IS OVERGROWN” to
“STRUCTURE OF THE HOUSE IS ROTTING AND COLLAPSING IN ON ITSELF, ODOR INSIDE THE HOUSE AND AROUND IT.”
Complaints listed include:
- Issue Date: 10/22/2009 – No. 2009-162584-000-00-NU, Nuisance Vacant Complaint, Closed: 01/04/2010
- Issue Date:10/12/2011 – No. 2011-182824-000-00-NU, Nuisance Vacant Complaint, Closed: 04/10/2012
- Issue Date: 12/13/2012 – No. 2012-215117-000-00-NU, Nuisance Vacant Complaint, Closed: 04/24/2013
County records also show that a Death Certificate was recorded, and the property was purchased in May, 2013 by “GATEWAY AREA APARTMENTS, LLC”, with a Gresham address.
Finding no listing for this Domestic Limited Liability Corporation in Gresham, a search of Oregon Corporate Records showed the Registered Agent of the corporation to be Joe Michael Westerman, and domiciled at what appears to be a residential address in Sherwood, Oregon.
The corporate records also show that Westerman is the Registered Agent for Green Castle Management LLC and Evergreen Builders LLC, both domiciled at the Sherwood address.
The yard is littered with debris, including the plunger of a hypodermic syringe and empty bottles of hard liquor.
Bureau manager outlines Housing Code Enforcement Program
Portland Bureau of Development Services Enforcement Program Manager Mike Liefeld spoke with East Portland News in a telephone interview, explaining how the Housing Code Enforcement program works.
“We cite violations, including sending official notices of violations and what actions can occur against the owner, if they don’t comply within the allowed time frame,” Liefeld began. “Regarding this property, a case is still open regarding the condition of the structure.”
He explained they respond to two categories of complaints: Unsafe or inhabitable structures, and “Nuisance Cases” that deal with the condition of the structure’s exterior – including trash, debris, and unsecured entries.
“With the earlier cases, they were found to be corrected,” Liefeld said.
“In 2011 and 2012 the responsible party was not able to take action, so the City stepped in.
“We performed an abatement security board-up in April, 2013 – this occurs when the responsible property is unable or unwilling to do so. The City invested resources in clearing the exterior, and in boarding up the structure.”
The City-performed board-up on the abandoned house at 120 NE 99th Avenue – it shares a back yard with the burned house – and it looks recently-done, and secure.
Houses can’t be made ‘entry-proof’
They don’t just nail a couple of boards across a doorway, Liefeld said. “We have the plywood inset to make it difficult to pry off, and the screw patterns are pretty tight, making it as secure as reasonably possible.
“But, a ‘security board-up’ is not like building ‘Fort Knox’; we can’t guarantee that individuals won’t perform criminal activity,” Liefeld added.
“There are resource limitations for us, and for the police who do the criminal enforcement on these properties. For the most part, I’d say that the policies do serve our citizens very well.”
Regarding the “troubled house” at NE 100th Avenue, Liefeld said the previous owner “obtained a Demolition Permit for the property December, 2012. This permit expired, because thee owner didn’t perform the action – that is, demolishing the structure.”
Both the neighbors, and the area homeless people, agree that the sooner this house can be demolished, the better.
New Demolition Permit approved
He added that the current owner reapplied for a Demolition Permit, which expires January 15, 2014.
“We have waivers for our enforcement process – for example, when the past owner pulled a Demolition Permit on March 19, 2013. The change of ownership cancels the waiver.”
This property hasn’t generated additional complaints since their last action, he said.
Liefeld addressed neighbors who say they’ve “given up” reporting problems at abandoned, vacant or problem houses.
“Again, we don’t have the resources to monitor abandoned houses. I understand the frustration of neighbors who say they feel ‘beaten down by the process’. We look at it as a partnership with neighbors; we do need the public to keep telling us where the problem properties are located.”
Here are two ways to contact the Bureau about a “troubled” house: Call the Telephone Intake Line at (503) 823-2633 (CODE). Or, the best way, Liefeld said, is to file a report online – a system that allows neighbors to attach photos. Go to the main Bureau of Development Services “Enforcement” webpage to learn more about the code, and for a link to their intake form: CLICK HERE.
> On the Front Page: Firefighters battle the blaze at an abandoned “problem house” in Hazelwood. PF&R photo by Dick Harris
© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News