Harrison Co. Getting Personal With Problem Property Owners

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- The challenge to clean-up derelict properties in Harrison County is about to get personal. County supervisors voted Monday to use sheriff's deputies to hand deliver notices about cleaning-up problem properties.

State law requires derelict property owners be notified by certified mail. But that method often falls short. Some owners of derelict property, simply refuse to sign for that certified mail. It's happened several times in Henderson Point, where Katrina left so many properties a giant mess.

Supervisors decided in cases where certified mail is refused, those owners can expect a visit from a sheriff's deputy.

Supervisor Marlin Ladner told his colleagues it's "kind of a desperate situation."

With so many properties still a mess at Henderson Point, he says it's time property owners take responsibility. He says while the law demands certified mail, personal service from a sheriff's deputy should work just fine.

"Then we know that people have been officially notified and they need to be at the public hearing so we can make some determinations. This property needs to be cleaned up," said the District 3 supervisor.

Property owners whose lots are not up to code will still be sent the certified letter. But should they refuse to accept the warning by mail, supervisors will now have the follow-up option of serving violators in person.

It's a warning to those deliberately avoiding the clean-up notices.

"Well, these individuals, they know how to play the law. And when they see they get these letters and see they have a registered letter, they don't pick it up. They don't accept it. So, it leaves us with no choice but to make sure we personally serve those individuals," said District 1 Supervisor Windy Swetman.

Supervisor Ladner is confident that if the issue is challenged in court, the county will prevail. Because it's been nearly three years since the hurricane, he says property owners affected by Katrina have had plenty of time to comply.

"I think with the emergency that we have following the storm, I believe that the court will look good on this situation," says Ladner.

Derelict properties related to Katrina are constantly on the board of supervisors' agenda. Monday morning there were 10 such properties on the agenda, all at Henderson Point. Seven of those had not yet been cleaned.