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Why Does It Take So Long To Demolish An Abandoned Building?

May 17 2012 | 1 comment

There are about 6,000 vacant structures in Detroit that are ready to be knocked down. But it can’t happen overnight.

It takes money…and the process for removing these buildings is a lengthy one.

Joann Street, between State Fair and Manning on Detroit’s east side, is a street of devastation. The houses are all vacant, abandoned, and vandalized.

Arthur Edge is very familiar with the area. He’s a building inspector with the city of Detroit and he’ll supervise the demolition of these now dangerous neighborhood eyesores. But it won’t happen overnight.

“The city has a 36 step demolition process that must be followed for non-city owned structures,” Edge told Detroit 2020.

It begins with a complaint being made. A case number is then assigned.

An office hearing is set for the property owner, who can appeal. If the owner fails to show, or the property is not secured, city council can order demolition. Utilities are then cut off.

It must be determined if there is asbestos in the structure. Competitive bids for demolition are sought. A Permit must be issued for the work.

After the tear down, the lot must be filled and graded. And only then is the demolition complete.

“A process is usually typical anywhere from 3 to 6 months in a perfect world, but if funding isn’t available, then we can’t continue with whatever stage that dwelling may be in,” Edge said.

Edge says it costs about $10,000 to demolish a house or commercial building. There’s not enough money to tackle the more than 30,000 vacant strucutres that have been identified by the city as dangerous.

There are vacant houses on either side of Wilkins Elementary School that will be coming down.
Here are the 36 steps that it takes to demolish a non city-owned structure in a non-emergency situation: (Information from the city of Detroit)

1.  BSEE (Building Safety Engineering Environmental Department) Dangerous building process begins with a complaint being made about a structure. Complained can be from any source including a resident, other City Department such as Fire, Police or BSEE.

2.  Inspector sent to property to perform an evaluation of the structure and photograph its condition.

3.  A dangerous building report is completed and the structure is assigned a DNG case number for internal tracking.

4.  Tract performed to determine all interested parties and notification via Certified Mail sent for BSEE Office Hearing. Owner can appeal demolition finding and apply for a six month deferral to effect repairs.

5.  If owner does not attend Office Hearing or fails to correct the deficient conditions and secure the property, a Hearing is scheduled before City Council to “order” the demolition. Prior to hearing, Inspector will perform another survey to confirm condition of structure as well as a pre-demolition survey. Tract is verified again in case ownership or interested parties have changed. Owner can attend and again request a deferral at this point. If no attendance or repairs completed and there are no public objections, property is Ordered Demolished by Council.

6.  Financial evaluation is determined to confirm appropriate fund availability for the geographic location.

7.  Assuming funds are available, BSEE will formally request the disconnection of all utilities such as water, gas and electric lines from the appropriate utilities.  Additionally, BSEE will also request a section 106 clearance from SHPO as mandated by HUD for payment eligibility.

8.  SHPO clearance is the first step in the “Environmental Release” that must also be undertaken confirming formally that the specific structure meets HUD guidelines for demolition reimbursement and is an acceptable use of the funds. If HUD determines structure is not acceptable or SHPO release cannot be processed, demolition activities halt pending either appeal, re-submission or re-purpose of structure.

9.  Perform an Asbestos Survey to determine Abatement requirements per NESHAP regulations.

10.  Receive and Process Electric, Water, and Gas utility clearances from respective organizations and log into system.

11.  Receive and review Asbestos Survey per NESHAP regulations for abatement requirements.

12.  Receive and process Section 106 / SHPO clearance and log into system.

13.  Funding is confirmed again.

14.  RFP is issued to population of Qualified City Contractors for Competitive Bid. 10 day response time is provided for contractors to physically review properties on RFP and asbestos abatement requirements.

15.  RFP sealed bid response publically opened and bids are evaluated by BSEE and Purchasing.

16.  Contractor is selected and awarded work. Contract created and executed.

17.  Demolition Permit issued by BSEE.

18.  Contractor must issue notification to DEQ of intent to demolish structure. DEQ requires a 10 day hold period after notification before demolition can proceed.

19.  Contractor abates all asbestos per survey and third party air monitoring is performed to ensure compliance with DEQ regulations.

20.  Upon confirmation that regulatory requirements are completed correctly, contractor is cleared to begin active demolition.

21.  Structure is collapsed onto itself and a “Knock Down” inspection is performed.

22.  Wood, debris and the basement / footings are removed by the contractor and an “Open Hole” inspection is performed.

23.  Clean Soil is delivered and verified as acceptable prior to backfilling the site.

24.  Contractor backfills the site upon approval of fill, compresses and grades the fill.

25.  Contractor seeds site with specific “No Mow” grass seed to control erosion and eliminate future mowing requirements of the vacant lot.

26.  A “Final Grade” inspection is performed.

27.  Contractor submits an invoice and copies of all regulatory paperwork for job close out.

28.  Invoice reviewed and approved if correct. Regulatory documentation reviewed and invoice processed if all paperwork is complete and correct.

29.  Permit is closed out.

30.  Funds are reconciled to the specific Grant / Funding source.

31.  Payment voucher is completed and Grant funds processed both internal to city and external via HUD interface.

32.  Contractor is paid.

33.  Job folder is assembled and audited via checklist to ensure conformance with HUD content and record retention regulations.

34.  Internal City Systems are verified to contain all process data.

35.  Lis Pendens is filed to attempt recovery of City Incurred demolition costs.

36.  Demolition is complete.


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  1. steve from virginia February 25, 2013

    The author leaves out the part where the City sends a request to the Holy See in the Vatican for God’s permission to demolish the building.

    Why not find out whether there is some 3d party able/willing to rehabilitate the structure?


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