Austin Homeowners Worried About Losing Homes After Demolition Letter from City
By Space Coast Daily // July 6, 2023
Homeowners in the City of Austin are still grappling with shock and disbelief on Sunday night after receiving a letter from the city on Thursday, stating that their homes, ravaged by the destructive EF2 tornado that struck the area two weeks ago, must be demolished.
The revelation of the letter sent waves of panic and uncertainty throughout the affected community. Homeowner Davida Cielki tearfully shared her emotional response, saying, “I started crying because I was like, what if I come home from work and they have bulldozers out here.”
The unexpected notification left four homeowners in rural areas scrambling to salvage their beloved residences, which they have called home for decades. The initial letter, arriving as a complete shock, deemed their houses “unsafe, unsanitary, a public and attractive nuisance,” and mandated the acquisition of permits within 30 days to initiate demolition proceedings.
The correspondence emphasized the severity of the structural damage, stressing the need for permits. It stipulated, “Due to the seriously advanced deterioration of the referenced structure, permits shall be obtained, at your option, for a home demolition within 30 days after receipt of this notice, and demolition shall be completed within 60 days after the receipt of this notice.”
Moreover, the letter warned that failing to secure the necessary permits would result in a request to the City Council to convene a public hearing, aimed at determining whether the conditions rendered the buildings unsafe.
Despite the evident devastation, Cielki’s home, though scarred by blown-out windows, a disintegrated carport, and several damaged vehicles, remains habitable. Curiously, no city official engaged directly with Cielki. Instead, they captured an image of her home from FM 1836. In response to homeowners’ distress, CBS Austin sought clarification from local authorities on Friday.
Summarizing the letter’s intent, city officials clarified, “Basically, what it was saying is if you don’t take immediate action, we’re going to demolish your building.”
Acknowledging a glaring error stemming from a template mistake, city officials promptly dispatched a revised letter to the homeowners. The new communication granted homeowners the option to pursue either a demolition permit or a building permit, shifting the focus from immediate demolition to the commencement of repair work within 30 days. Cielki expressed her relief, noting, “It said that we could start working on our house, but we had 30 days to start doing it all.”
The revised letter outlined the consequence of failing to secure permits within the given timeframe. It warned, “If permits are not secured within 30 days after the receipt of this notice, the City Building Standards Commission shall be requested, by Ordinance, to call for a public hearing to determine whether conditions exist which render this building unsafe under the provisions of the Ordinance or Code.”
City officials assured CBS Austin that the City of Austin would actively collaborate with the affected property owners, empathizing with their struggle and recognizing the magnitude of their ordeal.
“The City of Austin is by no means going to take any action without working with those property owners. We know that they’ve been hit by a storm; we know they’ve gone through devastation,” officials affirmed.
Expressing remorse for the oversight, officials conceded that the letters should have undergone more stringent review. The Cielki family now finds themselves in the process of repairing the damage while navigating the complexities of an insurance claim.
Remaining hopeful, the family maintains ongoing communication with the city, urging them to nullify the initial letter to alleviate their concerns of a bulldozer potentially arriving at any moment.
Cielki emphasized the importance of safety, stating firmly, “I would not put my child, I would not put my dogs back in the yard or the house until it was cleaned up and safe.”