Last updated: July 20. 2013 11:12PM - 4367 Views
By Jon O'Connell

Roger and Doris Garrett of Race Street in Wilkes-Barre talk about the empty house next door that they say is in a state of disrepair and has been for years.
Roger and Doris Garrett of Race Street in Wilkes-Barre talk about the empty house next door that they say is in a state of disrepair and has been for years.
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WILKES-BARRE — The Garretts said they never had trouble with ticks and mosquitoes before the house next door was abandoned.

This year, Doris Garrett said she picked ticks from her dog, Kc, on seven or eight occasions, and sitting on the back porch has grown unpleasant. “You can’t sit out here at night because, my Lord, the mosquitoes,” she said.

The grass has grown almost knee-high, and, the family said, workers from a hired lawn company told them they were instructed to mow only the tree lawn in front of the house and part of the backyard.

Doris Garrett called the city health department late last month and was told the homeowners, Mark and Tracey Robinson who used to live in the house, would be cited for neglecting their lawn, she said. If the homeowners did not follow through, the city’s public works department would oversee the grass-cutting, said Doris Garrett.

The Robinsons could not be contacted for comment about the property. Grass there seemingly has grown well over the city’s 6-inch limit.

City Municipal Affairs Manager Drew McLaughlin said the city cuts the grass regularly for other properties in the city — he couldn’t say exactly how many — and fines the landowners for the cost of labor and supplies. “There are more than several throughout the city that we have to maintain in addition to parks and other city properties,” McLaughlin said. “This is why you bring on extra part-time employees in the summer.”

The Garretts have lived in their home in one of South Wilkes-Barre’s quieter neighborhoods since 1961. Doris Garrett remembers when her children, now grown, played with kids on the street and all homeowners took pride in their property.

Roger Garrett blamed a lackadaisical city administration for what he considers to be the city’s overall declining curb appeal.

Wilkes-Barre’s a small city, he said, explaining that holding homeowners accountable for keeping their properties presentable shouldn’t be such a challenge. “If I was mayor of this city,” he said, “first thing I would do is say, ‘Property owners, keep up your property.’”

A warning notice from UGI utility hangs from the front doorknob of the empty house and dusty notices taped to the door mark it as vacant. It looks as if someone tried forcing entry through the back door.

“We know what the problem is. It’s going to cost too much to make it livable again,” Roger Garrett said, nodding toward tarps covering most of the roof. On windy days, he said, shingle chunks blow into their yard.

McLaughlin said he’d look into the Race Street property to make sure the grass gets cut and inspectors look for any hazards that might have arisen due to neglect. “We’ll get it taken care of in short order,” he said.

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