Neighbors in KC, Independence may soon get clean-up rights for abandoned homes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Neighbors may soon be able to clean up blighted properties without having to worry about legal consequences. Neighborhood groups are eager to take action.

In many Kansas City neighborhoods there are properties that are a constant source of complaints, and there are neighbors willing to take it upon themselves to do something about it.

"It depresses the entire block, just by this one property," said Joseph Jackson, of the Key Coalition. "Nobody wants to live next door to that."

For more than 10 years, a dangerous building has been left boarded up and standing along East 28th Street.

Neighbors like Jackson say they would cut the grass and remove piles of brush, but they don't have permission from the absentee owner.

"If a rock flies out of a lawn mower and breaks a window, then we would be held liable for that," Jackson said. "We want to be able to abate the nuisance without being held responsible for something that may happen on the property."

The "Good Neighbor" bill, passed by Missouri lawmakers at the end of the session, would allow neighborhood groups in Kansas City, Independence and St. Louis to clean up trash, cut grass and secure doors and windows of derelict homes.

In the Marlborough East neighborhood, Steve Walker said it's important to take action quickly where no owner is present to prevent blight from spreading.

"Squatters get in there," said Walker, who is president of the neighborhood association. "There's no way I can go back on that property and legally board it back up even if the boards are laying down. I find it important, very important, for neighborhoods to try to find ways to do this."

Under the proposed law, neighbors would not be allowed to enter a house or sue the property owner if they get hurt.

But the bill would enable citizens to get involved, instead of waiting for overwhelmed codes enforcement officers, who currently handle 13,000 cases in Kansas City alone.

It also would allow neighborhood associations to sue nuisance property owners without having to prove damages.

The governor vetoed a similar bill last year. Although changes have been made to address his concerns, there still is opposition to diminishing property rights.

If signed into law, the legislation would take affect in August.

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