PUNTA GORDA — The Punta Gorda Council voted to delay its decision on selling the Punta Gorda Isles “rat house.”
The house became a rat-infested neighborhood eyesore after the former owner abandoned it sometime around 2013.
In a 3-1 vote Wednesday, council members wanted more information about the current value of the house and property at 295 Belaire Court. Vice Mayor Debby Carey, a longtime advocate for neighbors in that area, was not at the meeting due to medical leave.
Assistant City Manager Melissa Reichert told The Daily Sun after the meeting that city staff will seek a “professional appraisal” on both.
The city foreclosed on the property in October. At that time, it had about $20,000 in code enforcement liens.
The house and property were valued at $235,000 as of January 2021, according to city documents.
Council Member Mark Kuharski voted against the motion to delay Wednesday, pushing to demolish the home.
“I ask that we get a professional opinion on what the property is worth with the house on it, and what the property is worth without a house on it,” he said. “I think for less than $25,000, we can do the community a great service by knocking it down.”
Kuharski said he was also concerned that a buyer might purchase the home, make minor fixes and lease it as a short-term rental.
“The worst possible thing that could happen, I think, is that somebody buys this as a fire sale, slaps a coat of paint on it and puts another Airbnb in the neighborhood,” Kuharski said. “I would suggest that we just knock it down, clean it up and sell it as a vacant lot.”
The other council members disagreed, however, directing city staff to bring back a professional opinion, like a real estate agent, on the value of both the property and the house by the council’s July 13 meeting.
“I don’t want to see us get in the market of demoing houses,” Mayor Lynne Matthews said.
Council Member Melissa Lockhart thought the city should treat the sale just as any homeowner would.
“I think we need to treat it just like it would be my own property and make sure we’re getting market value for it,” she said. “I don’t want to see any type of auction or best bid. I want it to be treated as a property should be as if I was selling it.”
The city has resolved the rat infestation, among other issues, at the house.
In 2019, the city hired a pest control company to put rat traps on the property; however, they could not legally enter the home.
The city has also been mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes over the years.
Since taking ownership, the city hired exterminators to work inside the home, and also fixed structural damages at the house, such as a large hole in the roof.
“We’ve had exterminators out there,” City Manager Greg Murray said. “The house itself, (still) needs a lot of work. We’ve tried to secure the envelope and it’s ready now for its next use of life.”
Lockhart added that the city has met its obligations as owners at this point.
“Our obligation was to get it cleaned up,” she said. “We’re now in possession of this property and it’s our obligation to sell it.”
“I don’t think it’s our obligation to see what’s going to be the future of that property, we have no obligation with that,” she added. “We sell it and it’s up to the purchaser to decide what to do.”
The July 13 meeting begins at 9 a.m. at Council Chambers, 326 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, and will be broadcast live on the city’s YouTube page or at bit.ly/2YiCqnY.