City looks to recoup costs from fire at condemned home

March blaze still under investigation; owner's whereabouts unknown

Posted 10/7/19

More than six months after a condemned south Littleton home burst into flames — on the day before a March hearing was to decide its fate — city officials are hoping to recoup taxpayer dollars …

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City looks to recoup costs from fire at condemned home

March blaze still under investigation; owner's whereabouts unknown

Posted

More than six months after a condemned south Littleton home burst into flames — on the day before a March hearing was to decide its fate — city officials are hoping to recoup taxpayer dollars spent abating the property.

The trouble is, former occupant David Lynch still owns the property, and is under no obligation to sell. Further complicating matters: Nobody knows where he is.

City council placed a lien on the property at 7874 S. Windermere Circle at their Oct. 1 meeting, meaning that if the property is sold, the city is owed more than $31,000 from the proceeds to pay back costs incurred to tear down what remained of the house after a fire broke out early on March 19.

However, Lynch still owns the lot, and the city has no plans to try to foreclose on the property, said City Attorney Reid Betzing. There's also no indication that the property will be handed over to a bank.

“The City does not have information on what Mr. Lynch's current relationship status is with his mortgage company as that is a private contract matter,” Betzing said in an email.

More than six months after the fire, the cause is still the subject of a joint investigation by Littleton Police and South Metro Fire Rescue, said Littleton Police Division Chief Andy Smith.

“I don't feel this is an unusual amount of time for an investigation given the circumstances we're dealing with,” Smith said. “There's a valid reason it's taking so long, I'll tell you that.”

Investigators interviewed Lynch once in the days following the fire, Smith said, but didn't have probable cause to arrest him at the time. Since then he's been in the wind.

“We'd be interested in his location if that's known to anyone,” Smith said.

South Metro spokesman Eric Hurst said most fire investigations are closed after just a few days, and this one remains open “due to possible criminal circumstances.”

Lynch has not received any insurance payout from the fire, Smith said.

The home's demolition has been a breath of fresh air for next-door neighbor Wendy Landin, who filed a restraining order against Lynch in 2006 after a number of hostile run-ins.

“This is the first time in many years I've felt safe in my own home,” said Landin, a schoolteacher. “It's the first summer I've felt safe sitting in my yard.”

Lynch bought the home in 2000, according to county records, and his troubles with the city date to 2012, when he was arrested on animal cruelty charges.

Responding officers found the home in squalor, said city code enforcement supervisor Rebecca Thompson at a Board of Appeals meeting earlier this year. Lynch pleaded guilty to the animal cruelty charges and did six months in jail.

City inspectors ordered Lynch to make repairs to the home, Thompson said, but as the years went by, the house continued to deteriorate.

The city declared the home uninhabitable in May 2018, and in Nov. 2018 ordered the home demolished. Speaking at a city hearing on the order, Lynch told officials he was overwhelmed by the costs and complexities of fixing up the house.

Asked why he didn't sell the house, Lynch said a friend had once offered to line up an investor to buy it.

“He said, 'If we get someone to offer you $200,000 for this, will you take it?'” Lynch testified at the Jan. 16 hearing. “And I said, 'Go to hell.' The government has taken everything I've got. This is the last thing. This is do or die, literally, because I got nothing else.”

After missing several subsequent hearings, Lynch requested one final hearing before the city's Board of Appeals, scheduled for March 20. On the morning of March 19, the home caught fire. The city still held the hearing the next day, though Lynch didn't show.  The house was demolished and abated between May and August.

With the condemned home gone, there's nothing stopping Lynch from visiting the property, said Betzing, the city attorney, though he would not be allowed to camp on the property in a temporary structure.

There's also nothing stopping him from building a new home on the property, Betzing said, “assuming he met all applicable zoning and building codes and paid his permit fees.”

Landin, the neighbor, said she can't believe the situation isn't yet resolved.

“Until they arrest him or that property isn't his, I won't be able to relax,” Landin said. “This is a never-ending nightmare.”

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