Vacant house irks neighbors in southwest Olympia as property sits in legal limbo

A foreclosed house in southwest Olympia has some neighbors concerned about potential health and safety risks.

Neighbors say the property at 1218 Eighth Ave. SW was kept in tip-top shape until original homeowner Russell M. Ojard died in 2011 at age 85.

Since then, the declining property has been stuck in legal limbo. Court records show OneWest Bank has tried unsuccessfully since 2012 to contact Ojard’s relatives about the property and ongoing foreclosure efforts. City code enforcement has been unable to reach the man’s relatives and is waiting for the bank to take legal ownership.

Chris Hempleman, who has lived across the street for about 20 years, is concerned that the vacant house will attract troublemakers and rats.

“It’s not locked. That’s what makes me uncomfortable,” Hempleman said. “This is a nice little neighborhood. We take care of our houses.”

Hempleman and a few residents in the South Westside Olympia Neighborhood Association have brought the vacant house to the city’s attention. This week, a probation crew began trimming overgrown vegetation on the property, which now has a giant dumpster in the driveway.

Code enforcement officer Georgia Sabol said the property’s overgrown plants have created a safety hazard by blocking the line of sight for drivers at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Rogers Street. Neighbors have also reported finding used needles at the property, Sabol said, noting she has been unable to reach the former owner’s relatives.

“The bank is having just as much trouble as me in getting a responsible party,” she said. “What the neighbors really want is the property to be resold and somebody to move in there again and be part of the community.”

Keith Stahley, director of Community Planning and Development, said the city is juggling about 200 active code enforcement cases ranging from minor nuisance violations to properties with serious safety hazards. Stahley said the city is also updating software so residents and property owners can track code enforcement cases online.

“We typically try to work with property owners to get these matters resolved,” Stahley said.

Rich and Melody Bakala have lived across the street from the Ojard property since 1972 and said they appreciate the city taking action. The couple recalled another house in the neighborhood that caught fire and was abandoned around 1980 — and became a magnet for transients and revelers until that house was finally rebuilt and sold.

Rich Bakala, who voiced his concerns about the Ojard property at Tuesday night’s Olympia City Council meeting, said the vacant house is an eyesore in an otherwise well-kept neighborhood.

“We’re happy to see something happening,” he said of the city’s recent cleanup effort. “I’m optimistic.”

According to the city’s website, common code enforcement issues include: