CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) — Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) is familiar with cases of ‘demo by neglect,’ when property owners in downtown Charleston leave a home to deteriorate on its own until it’s at a point where it can be demolished.
However, in other instances, the BAR sees a property owner opting for a quicker, but less legal route.
A homeowner on Tram Court in downtown Charleston is now paying a fine of over $1,000 after trying to demolish her own home.
Charleston city leaders said this incident is a piece of a much bigger problem after she had previously failed to get permission from the city for the demolition.
“Yes, we have strict BAR requirements,” said Dan Riccio, Charleston’s Director of Livability and Tourism. “But there is a reason for that — it’s for historic preservation.”
The BAR has to give permission for anything that property owners want to do to a home, from additions to demolitions.
John Denke, HBSS Homes Manager, said he recently went to the BAR for permission for demolition.
“I had three engineers look at the building and they all said ‘this is scrap, this is terrible – there is nothing good in saving this house,” said Denke. “So I did ask the city ‘can we take the house down?’ and they said no – it’s a 1925 historical duplex.”
Denke believes the board’s strict rules are why you see a lot of houses downtown with a red ‘x’ deeming them unsafe and unlivable.
“You’re so handcuffed to do any work on these houses that a lot of these houses just sit there and crumble,” he said. “Nobody wants to work on them because there’s not enough money to do the work and to turn a profit, so they just sit there.”
That may also be the reason the homeowner in downtown Charleston took matters into her own hands.
“Really bizarre scenario — especially if you catch them in progress,” said Riccio.
She was caught trying to pull her house down with a rope tied to a truck.
“We had to have the building official get involved and we had to deem the property as very unsafe and the owner had to continue the demolition,” Riccio said.
The condition of the 1930s home was past the point of rehabilitation. City officials allowed the demolition to move forward, giving the homeowner what she wanted from the start.
“Unfortunately took matters into their own hands,” said Riccio. “We issued a citation for the offense of this improper demo without permits.”
The property owner ended up pleading guilty.
While she could have faced up to 30 days in jail, she was given the maximum fine of $1,087.
News 2 Investigators asked city leaders if some homeowners may see this as an easier way to get what they want while getting around the BAR’s strict rules.
“Unfortunately with some property owners like that it would be the cost of doing business for them,” said Riccio. “As sad as it is, it’s a reality from time to time.”
Denke said there has to be a happy medium with city leaders when it comes to their stance on historic homes.
City officials said they are in it for the long run and believe their strict rules are crucial in protecting Charleston’s history.