BILLINGS - It’s been months and the view out Paul Waller’s front window hasn’t gotten better. In fact, he says it's only gotten worse.
“It’s just junk,” said Waller.
Waller admitted the situation is taking a mental toll, especially after the property has moved into complicated territory.
The city of Billings code enforcement manager, Tina Hoeger, says the property at 1426 Wicks Lane was previously sold. But now the transfer of ownership and removal of the occupants is what’s currently pending.
It's a legal process Hoeger says needs to run its course.
“We are in constant contact with the new owner’s representatives and there is a plan for the property once they take over,” Hoeger said by email.
Waller says it’s not good enough as he watches his evicted neighbors haul in more junk.
Waller believes they’re operating an illegal junk removal business, hauling away appliances and trash from people’s properties, bringing it to the location on Wicks Lane and then sorting it for recycling money.
“The quality of the junk he’s been hauling in drastically went to the basement,” said Waller. “There’s a refrigerator over there. I’ve seen him break up oven doors.”
Waller is now forced to sit back and watch, frustrated about what he says are apparent squatters hauling in more junk.
“Things have got to change,” he said. “City council is going to have to buck up.”
Hoeger says Waller has been given as much information as legally possible for the situation.
“We have laws to follow,” said Billings City Council member Roy Neese. “And so a lot of times the reason it's taking longer is the legal process.”
Neese praised the work being done by code enforcement since the department expanded after the 2021 voter-approved $7.1 million public safety levy, which added resources to the agency.
“They have been able to really help clean up a lot of properties,” said Neese.
And that’s true. Neese says since code enforcement’s expansion, officers have doubled the number of properties they’ve been able to clean up. In addition, Neese says Hoeger worked closely with state legislative leaders to increase the cost of property abatements from $9,500 to $25,000.
He also says the Council expects to see several ordinance revisions soon.
“The community has changed a lot, and these codes have not changed in years... in decades," Neese said.
Added Hoeger, “We are still in the preliminary stages."
But while code enforcement assures there’s an end in sight, Waller has had it with the junk, saying the process shouldn’t take this long.
“It's depreciating my property value, and, you know, it’s a mental drain. It is,” said Waller.
Neese says the Council can expect to hear more about revisions to code enforcement ordinances by Feb. 20.
Hoeger says the hope is to provide more tools for the city to deal with these nuisance properties.