Vacant St. Paul properties frustrate homeowners, rack up big fees

December 05, 2018 10:24 PM

About 580 buildings, including many single family homes and duplexes, are still sitting vacant in St. Paul despite a strong real estate market with a relatively low inventory of available properties for sale.

The City of St. Paul is on track to collect more than $1 million in vacant building fees from the owners of those properties. The city is still looking to collect an annual fee of $2,284 from 44 owners who could ultimately have the charge added to their property taxes if they don't pay up.


A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS review of the properties on the city's list found several houses in disrepair, boarded up or with unfinished remodeling. The empty house next to Judy Johnson on Central Avenue has been vacant for more than a year. 

"That's kind of scary when you're living next to an empty property," said Johnson. "It's worrisome because you don't know what's going on over there. You don't know if people are looking at it because it's an empty house, going and breaking in."

The number of vacant properties is still lower than a decade ago. In 2010, managers with St. Paul's Department of Safety and Inspections say the city had an all-time high of more than 2,000 vacant buildings. 

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The department's deputy director told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the fees they collect from the owners of vacant properties pay for monthly inspections, responses to complaints from neighbors and "basic maintenance."

Minneapolis reports having 395 vacant buildings as of the start of December. It charges a higher vacant building fee than St. Paul, collecting more than $7,000 a year for each property.

Some real estate experts say they expect the number of vacant properties to continue declining.

"In this market, there really is an opportunity to sell most homes as long as you fix things up," said Kris Lindahl, owner of Kris Lindahl Real Estate.

"I would just caution people to understand it doesn't necessarily mean the home is a foreclosure or bank-owned because it's vacant. There are different reasons why that could be," said Lindahl. "Homeowners may have rented out a property and then decided they didn't want to be landlords anymore because they really became accidental landlords because of the last downturn."

Johnson said she's seen work being done on the vacant house next to her and she's hopeful it will come off of the city's list soon.

"They're working on it," said Johnson.

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Eric Rasmussen

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