Neighbors of an abandoned house at 4000 Oliver Street say the property is an eyesore and an easy target for vandals and they want the Hyattsville City Council to do something about it.
“There’s never any lights on. Until recently, the front steps were covered in what looked like rubble and gravel and trash. Somebody showed up to shovel it last week, but we’re worried that there will be vandalism or graffiti or people squatting there,” said Thomas Wright, one of the spearheads of a petition received by Ward 3 councilmen Tim Hunt and Matthew McKnight on Sept. 26.
Both councilmen said they’ve heard complaints from residents about the vacant property on the corner of Oliver Street and 40th Avenue over the years, but according to Hunt, this was the first time they received a petition.
On Oct. 3, after reviewing the petition that was signed by 15 neighbors, the City Council agreed to look into the matter.
“We don’t know what the city can do,” Wright said. “That’s what we’re asking—for them to look at it and see what they can do. We’d like to see that it’s better maintained and mostly, sell it to somebody or rent it out so that there will be somebody occupying it so it just doesn’t sit there deteriorating.”
Wright believes a couple of brothers own the house, which has been empty for about five to 10 years, and aren’t selling or repairing it. The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation shows that the property is owned by Gary S. Baker of Oglethorpe Street and Dennis D. Bilowus. Calls to Baker have gone unreturned.
“Some aren’t a detriment to the neighborhood,” Hunt said, of the vacancies. “But at the same time it’s certainly, in a general sense, a benefit to the community to have people in there that are responsible and good neighbors.”
The city’s code enforcement department drives around looking for violations, including thins like failure to keep grass cut to 10 inches, failure to keep sidewalks clean and failure to remove animal waste.
“Typically, what’ll happens is that someone will get a warning, and they have a specific amount of time to comply,” Hunt said. “If they don’t comply, they get a fine.”
Hunt said the city could benefit from creating a registry of vacant houses.
“These are things we need to talk about with our attorney because we don’t want to step on property rights,” he said.
“We have houses like that all over the city. It happens more often than you think. In that instance, it’s not a foreclosed property. It’s not uncommon for someone to own a piece of property and not do anything with it.”
Clarification: This story has been updated. Gary S. Baker and Dennis D. Bilowus own the house at 4000 Oliver St. We would like to thank John Essex for pointing out that the the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation website listed ownership information on the vacant house.