Jeff Humphrey

Spokane Killing Off Zombie Homes

Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at 3:21 p.m.

A family out of Texas is finally moving into their North Spokane home but it’s hard to say who’s happier, the new owners or their neighbors.

“I am so pleased! It looks like a perfect family home now. And the fact is, I’m going to be living next to, hopefully, a really nice couple of people,” predicted Sere Maddox.

Maddox recalls what this same piece of property looked like last November after the home went into foreclosure and became a hangout for gang members and criminal activity.

“They bring stolen property here, they trade stolen property here, trade drugs,” Neighborhood Resource Officer Doug Strosahl said last fall.

“My wife’s car was broken into twice. The garage had a stolen car in it,” Ben Sebald said of the crime generated by the abandoned home.

“Lots of drugs, lots of alcohol,” Maddox lamented.

That’s why the Spokane police department’s Civil Enforcement Unit declared the property a chronic nuisance but couldn’t get the lender to respond to the City’s concerns.

“With no responsible party the City has the ability, and I would say the responsibility, to abate those nuisance properties and the only way to do that was sell this property,” said assistant city attorney Matt Folsom.

Ultimately, the city of Spokane took the unusual step of going to court and putting the foreclosed property into receivership.

“The thing we try to do is get it turned around as quickly as possible.  Make sure there are no hazards lying around and then and we usually list it as is. And there’s a market and there’s a lot of competitive bidding,” said Tim Fischer, the court-appointed receiver of the property.

In fact, the home sold almost immediately but by then, months of abuse from squatters had taken a terrible toll.

 “As I recall there was a big gaping hole right here where the squatters tore off the plaster and then used the wood behind it to warm up the house,” Vadim Smelik of Moher Construction said in an upstairs bedroom.

As Smelik’s company brought new life to the former zombie home, the renovations drew high-fives the community.

“The neighbors would come over and congratulate us on how good it felt to finally have the squatters and all the crime out,” recalled Smelik.

So what was once a magnet for criminal activity is now Elise’s new home.

“I’m incredibly excited about bringing new life to the community. The work that was done to the house was so professional and the neighbors are so attentive and kind. I’m not worried at all about it being a former zombie home. I’m just really excited to move in,” Elise said as crews hauled box after box up her front steps.

So now the City will save money on police, fire and code enforcement responses here and the property will start generating taxes again.

“If the City makes a little tax revenue off of it great. But overall, it’s the families in the neighborhood who win here and so it’s just great to see,” exclaimed Sebald. 

So far the police department’s Civil Enforcement Unit has placed 13 abandoned properties in receivership and while the City doesn’t like suing big name banks in court, sometimes it’s the only way to kill off a zombie home.

“So you have actually have people come in who want to live here, who want to invest in this property and invest in the neighborhood. That’s really amazing and that’s good for all of us around here,” Maddox said thankfully.

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