David Kohl  /  AP
A "shame" sign tells how to contact the owner of this neglected property in Dayton, Ohio.
updated 5/26/2005 4:13:51 PM ET 2005-05-26T20:13:51

Carol Viers’ home is freshly painted, the lawn recently mowed and there is new decorative latticework affixed to the front porch.

But just feet away, weedy vines choke a vacant, two-story house. The windows are boarded up and an overstuffed chair sits upside-down in the back yard.

“It’s an eyesore,” Viers said — and city leaders agree.

Dayton has joined a small number of cities nationwide that try to pressure property owners into cleaning up their act by posting large signs on rundown, vacant houses identifying the owners and how to contact them.

“We’re basically calling it shaming,” said Bill Nelson, director of Dayton’s building services department. “Even if it has only marginal success, the impact will help some of our neighborhoods.”

The house next door to Viers’ is one of two in the city with signs so far. When Viers thinks about the house, a look of disgust crosses her face. She calls it a magnet for homeless people and a firetrap.

“It should have been torn down years ago,” she said.

City officials hope neighbors and concerned citizens who see the signs will pressure owners to fix up the homes. The wooden signs, about 5 feet long and 3 feet high, are bolted onto the front of the houses.

In Peoria, Ill., officials began putting up similar signs a few weeks ago, installing five of them.

Owners of two of the properties have since made significant improvements. One owner has begun repairing the porch, which was missing its roof and some of the floor.

“We seem to be getting some results,” said John Kunski, the city’s inspections director. “I don’t think it’s a cure-all, but I think it’s a tool we can use.”

Lynchburg, Va., used the idea for a couple of years in the mid-1990s.

Rachel Flynn, Lynchburg’s director of planning and development, said just the threat of putting up a sign prompted action in half the cases.

“It did have a good effect,” she said.

There are about 2,700 vacant structures in Dayton, which has a population of about 166,000. Officials say about 10 percent of the vacant homes and commercial properties have been neglected to the point that they are considered nuisances.

Nelson said the city plans to put up 10 more signs at structures with peeling paint, holes in the roof and falling gutters.

Finding the owners has proven difficult and when the owners are found, they are often unresponsive, Nelson said. He hopes the signs will change that.

The sign on the house next to Viers’ home identifies the owner, but there is no telephone number — only an address in South Carolina. Attempts to reach the owner by telephone were unsuccessful.

The other sign was put on a house that has blistering paint, broken shutters and a garage door that was falling down.

The house is owned by US Bank, which assumed ownership after the house went into foreclosure. The bank has put the house up for sale and hired a real estate management company to keep the grass cut and do other upkeep.

“It’s in a maintaining process,” bank spokesman Steve Dale said.

One neighbor said he worries the sign will have a negative effect. James Coleman, 39, lives across the street in a house with neatly kept landscaping, his front yard blanketed with ivy.

“The house itself is an eyesore, but it just makes it worse,” Coleman said. “It makes it stand out.”

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