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Spokane Valley votes to expand authority over "chronic nuisance" properties

Rebecca White/SPR
Spokane Valley City Hall, as seen in spring 2021.

For years, Spokane Valley residents have complained of “nuisance properties” – homes with consistent drug activity, poor maintenance, yards full of junk vehicles or fire hazards.

City leaders are taking steps to address repeated complaints about those properties.

The Spokane Valley City Council expanded its definition of nuisance properties, and gave itself the option to ask a judge to allow the city to board up a property and sell it through receivership, if the warnings don't follow warnings to clean up.

Every city council member except Ben Wick supported the proposal. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, he said the city could end up hurting its most vulnerable residents.

“I just can't support it,” Wick said, “I get the abandoned property, wholeheartedly, the people that five or more criminal instances, I get where we're going with that, and appreciate the receivership, and doing the same method of other cities, but I just think it’s too wide of a brush.”

Under this law, a property can become a “chronic nuisance” if it determined to be abandoned or if there have been at least two drug busts in a year. It can also be considered a chronic nuisance if there is at least one instance of criminal activity, and at least two other nuisances in a 60 day period. That means a property could technically fall under this law if it has two general nuisances, such as broken furniture and inoperable vehicles on their lawn, and then if someone on the property is arrested.

Spokane Valley Mayor Pam Haley said the new law gives people several opportunities to work with the city before action is taken against them, and city staff have discretion when making decisions.

"We do go for voluntary compliance -- always, always, always,” Haley said, “If somebody tells us they need help, we're not going to go take their house. That's not our purpose. Our purpose is to protect the neighbors, and I think we need to make it a little more strict, because we seem to have these houses that we can't close down that go on for years, and years and years."

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.