Vet gets costly lesson in house purchase
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent June 6, 2014 9:28PM
A city official said Hammond followed all statues in demolishing the house at 954 Wilcox St., but the home's new owner said he was surprised to find the house missing. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:03AM
HAMMOND — An area veteran, looking for a low-cost real estate investment, got a rude awakening when city officials in January demolished the abandoned house that he bought at a county commissioners sale.
But one Hammond official said city crews followed the law closely in demolishing the house as part of a larger push to rid the city of unused buildings.
“I was looking for an investment property, just trying to have another source of income, trying not to work so much,” Andrew Diaz said of the house he bought for about $2,000. “I saw the house standing just four days earlier. But then I drove right past the property, (and) there was no house there at all. I couldn’t believe it happened. I was in shock.”
Diaz said he regularly drove by the house, 954 Wilcox St., two to three times a week “to check on things” and changed the locks after recording his deed with the Lake County recorder’s office.
Documents show Diaz purchased the two-story house at a commissioners sale April. 25. That same day, Hammond officials obtained a court order to demolish the house.
The city set and followed the required deadlines and notifications, city attorney Kris Kantar said, adding that city files indicate the house had siding peeling off, was boarded up and had the water shut off for about a year.
Kantar also said city workers posted a bright green notice on the front door, indicating the home would be demolished — a sign Diaz said he never saw. Hammond has an aggressive program that has targeted 400 abandoned buildings for demolition since 2009, she said, “and we always put a notice on the door.”
Pictures of the house taken in January show little disrepair, a rear door fitted with a board reading, “No Trespassing by order of the City of Hammond,” and a partially torn white notice on the front door.
Diaz’s attorney, John Craig, of Merrillville, did not return calls seeking comment. Diaz said he has paid a total of about $6,000 for the house, including paying back taxes, notices to lienholders and creditors and legal fees.
Diaz said he has been advised he has little recourse in recouping his loss. He also said county officials told him that it was his responsibility to be sure the house was not going to be torn down.
“It seems like everybody was pointing the finger at everyone else. It turns out apparently there’s nothing anyone can do,” he said. “This left a really sour taste in my mouth. I really don’t want to go into any tax sales anymore. To me, $6,000 is a pretty large investment just to be thrown away like that.”
Kantar said Diaz’s problems could have been avoided and offered advice for prospective real estate investors.
“Call the city of Hammond and find out if (the house) is currently on the list to be demolished because, if you don’t, you may find out it’s not there anymore,” she said.