Neighbors frustrated over claimed ‘Hazmat House’

Vacant house cleaned up after months of complaints

BEAVERTON, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Barrels of unknown liquids and canisters containing possible flammable substances at an empty house left residents in a Beaverton neighborhood frustrated with an inability to get it cleaned up.

Barrels of unknown liquids and canisters containing possible flammable substances  that have sat outside a vacant Beaverton home since late 2013, August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)
Barrels of unknown liquids and canisters containing possible flammable substances that have sat outside a vacant Beaverton home since late 2013, August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)

The house at 250 NW 181st has been vacant since late 2013. Homeowner Scott Rovig said his former home was going through foreclosure. He fell behind in the payments, he told KOIN 6 News, and when the bank demanded around $35,000, he moved out since he didn’t have the money.

Worried neighbors

Nearby residents told KOIN 6 News they nicknamed it the “Hazmat House” and noted it’s very close to a park where children play.

One neighborhood association member, who asked to remain anonymous, pointed to some barrels and canisters piled near the driveway.

“I’m looking at gas cans here,” the member said. “I don’t know what’s in some of these barrels.”

Outside, there were also containers labeled “Nitric Acid” and “Muriatic Acid,” as well as paint cans and canisters labeled as gear oil.

Rovig said some of the barrels were once used to store vegetable oil to make bio-diesel for his truck, and the muriatic acid was used for doing stone work. He said he did not remember having a container labeled “nitric acid.”

“I just don’t want to see this whole thing go up in flames,” said the neighbor.

Complaint to the county

KOIN 6 News obtained documents that show a neighbor complained to the Washington County Health and Human Service Department in March 2014.

“We as a community are worried this home is a fire hazard and much more,” she said in the complaint. “We think that there might be rodents (raccoons, etc.) living in the yard….”

On May 27, 2014, Washington County Code Enforcement Officer Andre Bjornskov investigated and made a report.

Washington County Code Enforcement Officer Andre Bjornskov, August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)
Washington County Code Enforcement Officer Andre Bjornskov, August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)

 

Among other concerns, Bjornskov wrote:

“The pond is not fenced on all sides to prevent children from possible harm.”
“Some of the liquid and chemical materials observed may be toxic or hazardous.”
“There were some propane containers and some other containers. The oil based paint as well as the solvent type chemicals certainly could be flammable.”

A firework, match or cigarette weren’t the only items that could start a fire, he said. Extreme heat could cause some materials to spontaneously combust.

Bjornskov said the toughest challenge in cleaning up abandoned or vacant properties is finding the owner.

Maintenance control of property

A sticker on the door of the house indicated Safeguard Properties, a mortgage field service company with main offices in Ohio, currently had maintenance control of the Beaverton house.

The neighborhood association member who spoke with KOIN 6 News said the association previously called Safeguard and asked them to clean it up.

Washington County’s Bjornskov mailed a notice of non-compliance to Safeguard Properties on May 27, 2014.

Two days later, Safeguard responded.

Neighbors say this house at 250 NW 181st has sat vacant since late 2013 with barrels of unknown liquids and canisters containing possible flammable substances sitting outside the home, August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)
Neighbors say this house at 250 NW 181st has sat vacant since late 2013 with barrels of unknown liquids and canisters containing possible flammable substances sitting outside the home, August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)

“I have placed orders to have the reported violations addressed,” Safeguard employee Iqua Ekong said.

However, on July, 2, documents showed Bjornskov checked the property again and reported, “There has been no cleanup of the property.”

He sent another email.

On July 3, a Safeguard employee sent another message.

“We are still waiting for a copy of the violation in order to remove all of the hazardous material from the property,” Marlisela Meza, a Code Compliance Team Member with Safeguard Properties, replied.

Bjornskov reminded them by email the violation notice was sent about a month before.

Who owns the property?

KOIN 6 News contacted Safeguard Properties and asked if Rovig was the owner of the house.

This sticker is displayed on the front door of the home residents in Beaverton have nicknamed the "Hazmat House," August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)
This sticker is displayed on the front door of the home residents in Beaverton have nicknamed the “Hazmat House,” August 12, 2014. (KOIN 6)

“Unfortunately, I can’t give out any information. We don’t own properties though. I need to get you over to our public relations person,” a Safeguard Properties representative said.

A voicemail asking for comment from the PR representative has not been returned at this time.

Clean-up

The day after the KOIN 6 News call, clean-up crews arrived at the property and hauled the barrels away.

“We are in great appreciation of your help in getting this resolved,” a homeowners association member told KOIN 6 News. “I don’t know when they would have come out had it not been for you folks.”

Tips for neighbors of foreclosed homes

Neighbors frustrated with properties that are abandoned or in foreclosure should first file an official complaint with the city or county government, Bjornskov said.

Keep code enforcement officers updated. Email pictures of the home or property to the county officials even after the complaint is filed.

Patience is required, Bjornskov said, as it is not always easy to determine who is responsible for a foreclosed home.

Over the past two years, he said, his workload has increased with more reports about foreclosed homes.

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