Man has $700,000 lien against his property after he says city demoed building, left him with bill

ATLANTA — An Atlanta man says his property was torn down by the city and then he was left with a massive bill.

Now he wants to know how any demolition could possibly cost that much.

It’s now an eyesore of a vacant lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in southwest Atlanta, but Andre Hadnot bought the building that ended up just sitting there with big dreams for a mixed-use redevelopment.

The city of Atlanta then demolished the building.

“What was it like the first time you saw this?” Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray asked Hadnot about the rubble that is now left of the building he bought.

“I was wrecked,” Hadnot said. “This wasn’t just a building for us. This was our retirement.”

Code enforcement said the building was “found unfit for occupancy.”

“This was not abandoned property,” Gray asked Hadnot.

“No… It was not abandoned at all,” Hadnot said.

The even bigger concern now for Hadnot is the lien of the property for the cost of the demolition, which was nearly $700,000.

“I’m like, What? Where are they coming up with this price? You know, how is it this much money?” Hadnot said.

He told Gray that he originally purchased the property for $215,000 in 2017. The lien is more than $670,000.

“No one in the whole city thought, ‘Well, $700,000 is a lot of money to take a building down,’” Hadnot said. “I mean, people are telling me they could take out a whole complex it’s for $700,000.”

When Gray looked at two years of code enforcement invoices, he found the city paid for a total of 230 demolitions in 2021 and 2022. Only one of those demos was more expensive than Hadnot’s, but that was for this entire apartment complex demolished in April 2021.

“How does it cost $700,000 to tear down a two-story building?” Hadnot said.

Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Lewis is passionate about this issue because the city demolished his family home first purchased by his grandparents.

“I was just thinking about folks like me. So, to me, that was wealth that was taken,” Lewis said.

Lewis authored a bill this time last year that eight other city council members signed on to that would place a 60-day moratorium on demolitions to allow time for a full audit of the department.

That proposal hasn’t gone anywhere yet.

“This is us trying to open up the door to what’s going on behind the scenes,” Lewis said.

Lewis says he recognizes there are two problems here. He also hears from neighbors desperate to have vacant, abandoned buildings and homes demolished as well as people waiting for years for code enforcement to act.

“You call the city; you call the code enforcement. You hope that they’re giving you the best information they can,” Lewis said.

Daphne Talley runs Atlanta’s code enforcement division.

She told Gray that Hadnot was sent notice by certified mail about a hearing on the proposed demolition because of concerns the building would collapse and he was a no-show.

“Do you believe you gave him sufficient opportunity to prevent this?” Gray asked Hadnot.

“Absolutely,” Talley said. “Had that building collapsed, it would of collapsed on the public right of way, pedestrians possibly, or the buildings of either side of it.”

But what about that nearly $700,000 cost?

“Listen, we tell every property owner it is a lot cheaper if you bring your property into compliance whether you are going to renovate it, or demolition,” Talley said.

The city said the demolition of Hadnot’s building cost more because part of the demo had to be done by hand, but Talley also acknowledged that the city gets a bigger bill from contractors than the general public would.

“A single-family dwelling, it will probably cost you $5,000. it would cost the city $15,000. It is always going to cost more,” Talley said.

“Did you, you know, take a brick and individually blasted off into space? I mean, for $700,000?” Hadnot said.

Hadnot is now essentially stuck because of that nearly $700,000 lien on the property, so he has filed a lawsuit against the city over the demolition and that bill.

As for the inflated costs for the demolition of buildings, code enforcement said it has to do with the bidding and procurement rules and process the city has.

But those procedures are supposed to end up with the fairest price, not a more expensive one.