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Building that collapsed into yards demolished after 13 Investigates history of code violations 

Building that collapsed into yards demolished after 13 Investigates history of code violations

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — As he looked outside the backdoor window of his home, Jamey Moore watched the May 16 storm roll into Houston.

“It got dark really quickly, and then all of a sudden, the wind started,” Moore said. “It was like a freight train just (whoosh) for a good, probably like 20 minutes.”

Moore said the vacant and dilapidated building behind his home began vibrating, and before he knew it, its bricks toppled into his and his three neighbors’ yards.

“Everything dramatic like that feels like slow motion, but, I mean, in reality, it probably was, like, five seconds. It kind of fell like dominoes. The top bricks came down first, and then it kind of just (fell) almost like a wave,” he said.

The owner of the vacant 1700 North Main Street building, just north of downtown Houston, said he was not insured when the wall collapsed into neighboring residential yards. He told 13 Investigates he would pay out-of-pocket to clean up the damage.

As of Wednesday afternoon, one homeowner told 13 that the bricks had not been picked up from their yards.

But, the city started demolishing the building last week after 13 Investigates began digging into the vacant property’s history of complaints dating back to 2010.

Houston Public Works said in 2010, it “responded to complaints of the property being abandoned and insecure after the roof collapsed. The property owner secured the building from unauthorized entry.”

But, in 2021, after another complaint, the city ordered the property owner “to comply with building codes or secure permits for demolition.”

That complaint was closed during a follow-up inspection a month later because the landscaping was maintained and “secured from unauthorized use.”

However, the issues continued, and after years of neglect, a hearing was held on Nov. 8, 2023.

During the hearing, a hearing officer said the building was deemed to have a “floor or a roof of insufficient strength to be reasonably safe,” and that part of the building was “not properly attached so that the part may fall on or otherwise injure occupants of the building or members of the public,” according to documents 13 Investigates obtained through an open records request.

The property owner was given 90 days to bring the building up to code or be demolished.

Houston Public Works told ABC13 after that hearing that the property owner bought a dangerous building repair permit, but “the permit expired without any action.”

Although the owner secured the building from unauthorized use, it was not in compliance when the May storm hit because the collapsed roof wasn’t fixed, making it unsafe to occupy.

Houston Public Works told ABC13 it does not have enough resources to revisit properties and tell them to fix whatever is not in compliance every time a permit expires. The department said it typically relies on complaints to determine which properties to follow up on.

Houston City Council Member Mario Castillo said he used to live near this vacant building. He remembers the roof collapsing when he moved to the neighborhood in July 2019.

“You see animals coming in and out of here all the time, and sometimes the gates weren’t always secure on the window, so it was just not in really good shape at all whatsoever. It was definitely a hazard,” Castillo said.

As a city leader, Castillo said he’s now heard from residents complaining about dangerous vacant commercial buildings across his district. Still, the process to remedy those concerns isn’t easy to follow.

“When you have three city departments involved – (Department of) Neighborhoods, Public Works, and Legal – it creates opportunities for things like this to slip through the cracks for the ball to be dropped, and I think that’s why we see such a struggle with getting these buildings either demolished or made safe because there’s so many folks involved,” Castillo said. “Some department is doing this, some department is doing that. They don’t talk to each other often about it, and you see exactly what happens.”

After the May storm, the impacted residents complained to the city and reached out to their former neighbor, Castillo, and 13 Investigates.

“How long does something like this have to sit here?” Moore asked. “To be honest, if this was any other more affluent part of the city, I feel like it would’ve been gone a long time ago.”

After 13 Investigates started asking the city about the property, the “Department of Neighborhoods conferred with the hearing officer to see if the building qualified for emergency demolition, which resulted in an emergency order. Because the property owner did not remediate the building before becoming eligible for emergency abatement following two separate hearing orders, the Department of Neighborhoods decided to achieve compliance with the emergency demolition,” according to the city.

The city began demolishing the building last week using taxpayer funds.

“The Department of Neighborhoods will issue a lien on the property for the total costs associated with the demolition,” according to a statement from the city.