Problem Properties Unit

As a rule, property maintenance problems in St. Louis County are fairly routine – a bit of curled off siding here or a patch of knee-grass there. Inspectors from the Department of Public Works’ Division of Neighborhood Services can generally coax a repair out of the homeowner with no more than an on-site visit or an official letter from Clayton. But every neighborhood has its chronic hard-cases – the homes bulging with garbage, the collapsed sheds and porches and the backyards stacked high with rusting cars and rotting tires.

These are the next-door or just-down-the-street eyesores that every homeowner dreads.

But there’s good news on the code enforcement front. Neighborhood Services’ Problem Properties Unit, which was created specifically to tackle these tough nut issues, has recently expanded and now fields three full-time teams. The two-member groups consist of a police officer and property inspector and their mission is simple: Do whatever it takes to put a permanent salve on the extra-resilient property maintenance problems that exist in every community.

Two of the teams focus on North County addresses, while the other is based in South County.

Although the teams have the power to arrest property owners or initiate the process by which residents are evicted from their homes, unit members prefer to identify the cause or causes of a particular problem and marshal the resources necessary to correct them.

Crisies of varying forms can lead homeowners to the extreme end of the property maintenance spectrum, officials say. Mental or physical illness, divorce, death, bankruptcy, poverty, extreme old age, incarceration and loss of employment can all conspire to produce a problem property. However, for the citizens struggling with these dilemmas, responding to a code violation notice simply isn’t a priority. In some, if not many instances, their life circumstances have overwhelmed them.

Problem Property officials organize volunteer help to get junk cleared out of homes or yards, provide donated items, rally family members and provide any other support and encouragement available to get a “problem property” owner back into the good graces of the property maintenance code and his or her neighbors.

“They truly are agents of change,” noted Joseph A. Hunt, deputy director of Neighborhood Services.

The Problem Properties Unit is designed as a resource for elected officials, neighborhood leaders, police officers, inspectors and others charged with special responsibility for the quality of life in our neighborhoods. As such, they do not take complaints directly from citizens. The Unit works primarily in Unincorporated St. Louis County but also performs contract work for several municipalities.