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York City fires raise concern for vacant homes

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YORK, Pa. -- People in one York City neighborhood are concerned about vacant homes after a handful of fires this past weekend.

After the East Maple Street fire, a few neighbors said abandoned houses invite trouble, and that the buildings should be boarded up, torn down, or sold.

The fire is not the only thing which has changed East Maple Street in York City.

Homeowner Luis Rivera said "it used to be a nice area, beautiful. A lot of nice people in the area, and from when we moved in back int he late '70s, 80s, it's changed so much."

The 100-block of East Maple Street has a few abandoned houses, some of which have become a place for squatters.

"I know Miss Mary, when she was alive, she used to run people out of that house a lot, but when she passed away, there was nobody there to run people out," Rivera said.

Officials believe trespassers using drugs at that empty house, unintentionally led to a fire, which now leaves 22 of Rivera's neighbors without a place to call home.

"This issue is not going to stop if the city doesn't address it. It's not the first time, obviously. That night we had what, three, four fires that night, and two of them were because of abandoned buildings," Rivera said.

York City mayor Kim Bracey said "many of the abandoned buildings in the city of York, are not owned by the city of York. They are owned by private investors. The city does keep a log, and actually has a vacant property registry with the fire department to know what properties are vacant."

"Often times, the city does end up owning it, some kind of way, through the redevelopment authority, and then we end up having to properly board and seal them, to keep out negative behavior," Bracey said.

Bracey believes the community can help solve the problem of what to do with vacant houses.

"The phone calls are great, it gets it on our radar, but if you're going to point out that someone has done this, we need you to be able to help identify who these people are and work with law enforcement at the same time," Bracey said.

"I know some of our neighbors have called the city, they called the police station, about people being in there. I know they ran some out before, but they just never boarded them up," Rivera said.

Rivera would like the city to board up or help make it easier to fix up abandoned houses, but for the four East Maple Street homes damaged in the fire, it's too late.

"They're either over priced, or they're not getting rid of them, and we're just creating more problems for the city. So, instead of having two abandoned houses, we're down to four now," Rivera said.

"Give them to a company. Give them to somebody that's going to do something with them. Put a time limit on it, like, 'we'll give you this property, you have such and such time to fix it up,'" Rivera added.

The city has a few ways to holding property owners responsible.

"From code violations, to working with our district magistrates, all the way to the common pleas court. There is a legislative process to help us to address it, through the means of property owners being more accountable," Bracey said.

"We do our best to register these vacant properties, and make sure they are properly sealed, to prevent tragedies like what took place this weekend," Bracey added.

For residents who have an empty house in the neighborhood that needs addressing, mayor Bracey recommends calling City Hall.

A representative will determine which department should handle, whether it's a police issue, a codes violation, or if it needs to be on the city's radar to board it and seal it up.