Every neighborhood seems to have one: A house that's such a mess that neighbors wish they could tear it down.

Even the Country Club Neighborhood has houses where hoarders have stuffed them so full that junk spills out from porches and garages and into yards.

The law only requires houses to meet a minimum housing code -- and the minimum doesn't mean picture-perfect. It also takes time for complaints to move through the process to conviction -- and owners can get repeated extensions if they show progress.

And some people simply can't afford to repair their property.

Residents of one Lincoln neighborhood have grown weary of the city's inability to clean up a "problem property" in their midst and have decided to take a new approach.

Neighbors from the Hartley Neighborhood intend to draw attention to an eyesore at the corner of 34th and R streets by having a "problem property potluck" across the street from it at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

They've invited a bunch of local officials, and expect 70 to 80 people to show up.

The house in their crosshairs, 3401 R St., is not pretty: It has weeds, not a lawn. Its roof and gutters are shot. Weedy vines nearly obscure two trees in the front yard, extending to the gutters.

Nobody lives there. But somebody owns the place: Daniel Winters. He lives in a tidy home in northwest Lincoln. But neighbors say they have not been able to get him to take care of his other house since he moved out years ago.

Bette and Enoch "Kelly" Kellogg have lived across the street from the house since 1971, and they say it was a nice house until Winters moved out. They say neighbors have tried everything to get the place cleaned up, including mowing the grass and offering to buy the place years ago.

"It is getting to be a horrible looking mess," Bette said. "The grass has never been cut. Trees are growing up on the porch. There are animals in the basement."

And although neighbors have called city officials and tried to get the house condemned, "The city doesn't seem to want to do much about it," she said.

"We've got nice homes," Bette said. "It's a good area -- that one is just a thorn in our side."

The potluck was conceived at a Tuesday gathering near the house that attracted about 30 people. Shawn Ryba from NeighborWorks was invited.

"It's actually to the point where it needs to be demolished because it's way beyond repair," Ryba said.

An arm of NeighborWorks called the Lincoln Policy Network has been working on such neighborhood issues -- they helped get housing code fines increased and a ban on couch porches enacted. They also opposed an increase in the allowable height of weeds.

Ryba says they want the housing codes updated because they haven't been updated since 1994.

But laws don't always do the trick.

John Boies, chief housing inspector, said Winters was prosecuted three times for housing code violations in 2005, paying $500 in fines. That year, the house was the target of a special committee that tackles problem properties from several angles. But the house has deteriorated again since then.

Winters is now being prosecuted for another housing code violation and is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 2. The misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of $500.

In 2005, he eventually complied with an order to paint the house.

"He painted it the brightest, most obnoxious yellow, with ugly brown trim," said Rhonda Schoenmaker, who has lived around the corner from the house for 25 years.

She'd like to see the house demolished.

She said she's called the city and made online complaints many times. "I don't know why the city doesn't act more aggressively."

She said the owner pays his fines and does the bare minimum.

"I walked by on a wet day ... you could just smell the mold inside of it," she said. "If it would just have the decency to fall in, then we would be done with it."

Boies said the law can only do so much. The house must not be a blight. It cannot be rotting or have missing soffits. The roof must be water-tight. The paint must be intact.

"That's about all we can do," he said. "That's one of those properties that's kind of frustrating for everybody because you don't really understand why somebody would leave it vacant."

Winters could not be reached for comment, but Boies said when he was prosecuted in 2005, he didn't really explain why he wouldn't sell or use the house.

The neighbors figure since city notices and fines don't work, perhaps peer pressure will.

Building and Safety head Fred Hoke said rather than just prosecute people, there must be an alternative for dealing with owners who can't fix their property for legitimate reasons.

"If they just want to violate the law, then you can go to prosecution," Hoke said. "We don't need to ... assume some kind of sidearm vigilanteeism that goes out there and tries to re-establish neighborhoods."

This probably won't be the last "problem property potluck."

Ryba said they're making plans to hold similar potlucks outside problem houses in the Clinton and Malone neighborhoods, to start.

Reach Deena Winter at 473-2642 or dwinter@journalstar.com.

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