Owner-Occupied Public Nuisances Add Extra Layer of Difficulty in Improving Des Moines’ Neighborhoods

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The city of Des Moines is working hard to demolish as many blighted homes as possible before the first major snowfall hits.

The Blitz on Blight program started this summer due to extra funding from the local option sales tax (LOSST). Its goal is to get as many court-ordered public nuisance properties torn down as possible, but sometimes they are not so easy to just get rid of.

A public nuisance is simply a property that interferes with neighbors' use or enjoyment of their own property or endangers life, health or safety. Most of the time, these deteriorated buildings are abandoned, left to rot, but sometimes they’re owner-occupied.

Recently the city ran into this very issue. A home on the corner of 19th St. and Forest Ave. just east of Drake University was declared a public nuisance. Not only is the outside in need of a lot of repairs, but a search warrant also found significant violations from electrical issues to space heaters everywhere.

Since the owner, Cal Sale, was living in the home, the city said they had to remove the resident for safety reasons.

“It is hard and it's in some ways heartbreaking because someone is in the house and they can't stay there,” SuAnn Donovan, Des Moines’ neighborhood inspection administrator said. “Then you have to help them or force them to move and it's hard for staff to go through that.”

The city does not have any relocation funds for people when they do this. Residents are on their own to find a new home. Though, Donovan said they often times partner up people with community services to help them out, especially if they are elderly or a veteran.

Sale’s home is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It was added in 2002. It's a Queen Anne style of architecture. It was also home to the first secretary and second dean of the Drake University Law School back in the late 1800s.

The city said if they can't get the owner to move forward with renovations, they will do everything they can to get it restored rather than demolish.

“It doesn’t put the enforcement process in a pickle, because it either is or isn’t a public nuisance,” Donovan said. “Do we try to go above and beyond to try and get somebody in there to go and renovate the historic house? Yeah, there’s someone in the city that will try to work magic and find some way to get it renovated. But that’s up to Mr. Sale if he’s going to do it [himself] or allow someone else to do it.”

Donovan said they are making progress with their Blitz on Blight program. They started with a backlog in the hundreds, but now are making headway on demolishing homes so they can keep up with complaints and start to investigate right away.

“I’m hoping once that backlog is done then we can start just keeping up with it so when we get the decree and they aren’t making progress we can take it down right away,” Donovan said.

If you want to file a complaint on a home that you feel is a public nuisance you can call Des Moines’ neighborhood inspections at 515-283-4046 or email at NID@dmgov.org

Donovan said it’s almost every day they get a new complaint.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.