BILLINGS — There’s not much to see at 221 Miles Ave. these days - it's just an empty lot. That’s because three months ago, the city of Billings Code Enforcement Division got a court order to demolish the abandoned house on the property after it was deemed a public nuisance.
The division has a full-time manager for the first time in its history. Couple that with the three additional officers it intends to hire by the end of the summer, and the group is hoping to help the community more than ever.
"We need to clean it up, because it does bring in crime, and nobody wants to look at that," said Tina Hoeger, who started as manager earlier this year.
Hoeger knows more than most what abandoned properties can do, after 29 years in the Billings Police Department.
"It’s beneficial to have Tina over there, especially someone who came from here," said Billings Police Lt. Matthew Lennick.
In her 30th year of public service, Hoeger’s new challenge is leading the Code Enforcement office. Think of it as the city’s curb appeal crew - they flag junk vehicles, illegal open storage, overgrown weeds, but the biggest projects are abandoned, decaying buildings.
"We see drug use, squatters," Lennick said, "and all of that results in property damage. It poses a problem for the neighborhoods, but it also poses a problem for law enforcement."
Each property has an owner, so Code Enforcement's - even police's - hands are often tied by the law.
"We start a case, take pictures, and then send a notice to the owner to give them time to clean it," Hoeger said. "If they don’t do it, we send a second notice. If they don’t take care of it that time, then we can take them to court, but it could take years in some situations."
One house at 301 South 32nd St. was first flagged in December 2019. It was demolished in January 2022.
"I don’t look at it as a loss. I look at it as a tool," Hoeger said. "We have a responsibility to the rest of the taxpayers and citizens of this community."
The most prominent thing on the walls of the Code Enforcement Division is the Dirty Dozen - a white board displaying the worst-of-the-worst properties across the city. Two slots are currently blank - that’s how quickly Hoeger has been able to get to work, and it’s going to get quicker. One new officer starts May, and two more will be hired after July 1.
"If she has the staff and she's taking care of complaints on the front-end of stuff, and we're helping where we're needed," Lennick said, "we could potentially quell some bigger issues that come up later with those abandoned properties."
"It’s not just us going out, writing citations or sending notices, and being completely emotionless about this," Hoeger said. "We want to help people."
In the coming weeks, MTN News will bring you a story about their efforts to help one local veteran who’s currently living in a Dirty Dozen house, as well as a deeper look into the laws surrounding this issue.