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Grandmother stuck with $25,000 demolition bill after house burns down

San Antonio city officials say they had to demolish the house for safety reasons. The family of the 86-year-old says the process needs to change.

SAN ANTONIO — A grandmother is left with nothing but a bill after a fire tore through her west side home.

It happened on May 28 in the 100 block of Bernice Drive.

86-year-old Cruz Flores barely made it out alive. Nearly everything in her house was burned to a crisp.

Her nightmare didn’t end there, though.

“Two weeks after, she gets a call from a neighbor that it seemed as if they were going to demolish the property because her car, which was parked in the carport, had already been pulled out,” said Rachel Cordova, Flores’s granddaughter.

No one contacted the family, according to Cordova. After the demolition, she says they found an 'emergency demolition notice' attached to the fence.

“Demolition is the last resort,” said Amin Tohmaz, the deputy director of San Antonio’s Development Services Department. “It’s a tough call to make, but if it’s needed for safety reasons, we have to make that call. We do a title search and get any information we can about any owner or lien owner. We do attempt to contact them; we do mail them letters and post a door hanger at the location.”

If the San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD) decides a structure is unsafe, they release it to development services. That department does its own assessment and has 96 hours to demolish it, according to city bylaw.

“We open it up for bids,” said Tohmaz. “If 10 contractors bid on it, the lowest bidder will take that contract.”

The city then passes the cost along to the homeowner. Since Flores was uninsured, the widow now owes the city nearly $25,000.

“They say there’s a lien on the property until that gets paid,” said Cordova. “She doesn’t have any money to get into an apartment, let alone $25,000.”

Cordova knows the house was unlivable, but says the family planned to sell the property ‘as is’ and would deduct demolition expenses. The money would have helped Flores move into a new home. Instead, she is now staying in Cordova’s living room.

“The city should cover it, they are the ones that requested the demolition,” said Cordova. “The house had a fence all around, no one was getting in. The gas and electricity were turned off. I can understand [the city] demolishing it in four months. But two weeks? You can’t make life decisions in two weeks, let alone after losing everything.”

City officials say general funding does not cover demolitions. 

Loved ones created a GoFundMe page to help Flores buy new things in June. It’s now being used to get her housing. If you would like to help, click HERE.


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