PORTLAND -- The housing crisis has left many homeowners abandoning their properties, because they owe more than the properties are worth.
This glut of abandoned homes has forced the City of Portland to take tough measures to get owners of the properties to clean up their clutter.
Mike Liefeld with Portland Bureau of Development Services said, “Recently we have been dealing with more distressed properties, abandoned with chronic violations. “
Unit 8 dug into documents at the bureau and found a homeowner with more dilapidated, abandoned homes than anyone else in Portland.
Norman Tung Yee owns 13 properties on the city’s abandoned and distressed homes list.
The city levies fines and liens to get homeowners to clean up and fix up their properties, so they don’t lower the property values of neighboring buildings.
While Liefeld said that works in about 99 percent of the cases they review, it’s not working with Yee.
An employee working on many of Yee’s properties said Yee now owes the city nearly $200,000 in fines and liens.
Unit 8 discovered many of Yee’s penalties are on property he’s owned for more than 20 years.
Irene Dennis lives next door to an abandoned home Yee owns.
“It’s a dump and been a dump for years,” Dennis said. Her biggest concern is that a fire could break out and affect the neighboring homes.
Nearly a decade ago, a Yee-owned home on Northeast Portsmouth Avenue caught fire and killed a man living inside. Yee was cited for having no working smoke alarms in the house.
Dennis said Yee repeatedly tells her he’s going to fix up the property, but then doesn’t. She said she has asked why Yee doesn’t sell it to someone who will fix the place up. But he keeps telling her he’s going to take care of it.
In Southeast Portland, Yee owns another abandoned home that neighbor John Carneau said is already impacting his property value.
“It’s like a dump," Carneau said. "How long is it going to go on? The man left it like that for 20 years.”
Carneau showed Unit 8 a picture she took of Yee’s property in 1996, and compared it to another taken in 2006. A camper and pickup truck hadn’t moved an inch, but the surrounding blackberry bushes and trees had taken over the lawn.
“He brings the debris in here, in corrugated boxes," Carneau said. "Stacks them up on the floor to ceiling and that's what's in there. Nothing ever leaves the house, it all comes in.”
Though Carnaeu has tried to get the fire department and the city to condemn the property, he said they won’t because it’s private property.
While fines and liens keep growing on Yee’s abandoned properties, the city admits it’s just not convincing Yee to clean up or fix up anything.
City workers are forced to board up, clean up, and fix fences on Yee’s property in order to keep the neighborhood safe, Liefeld said.
“When we continually spend those dollars at property owned by one individual time and time again, that's just dollars taken away from other problem properties in the community of Portland they've asked us to work on,” he said.
Yee surprised city officials by showing up at a hearing over his Portsmouth property with his lawyer. While the hearing did get Yee to mow the grass, Liefeld says the property is out of compliance again.
Unit 8 tried finding Yee at several of his properties, including one Yee has listed as his residence according to Oregon DMV records. Though Yee has had dozens of vehicles registered at the McMinnville home, Unit 8 discovered Yee never owned the property.
While interest on the fines and liens Norman Yee owes keep growing like the vegetation around his abandoned properties, city officials keep getting more frustrated that nothing gets cleaned up.
But Liefeld said there is one final step the city can take to get Yee’s abandoned properties cleaned up: Foreclosure. But foreclosure proceedings can take years, costing taxpayers even more money.