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Why Waste the Money Guarding a Burned-Out Apartment Building?

It’s not exactly rare that burned-out buildings take a few months to get knocked down.

An apartment building I pass often was gutted by fire a while back. Instead of tearing it down, the owners hired round-the-clock security to guard the remains for several months. Isn’t it a little late to start protecting it now? Why waste the money? —Fire Bug

I can’t support the notion that we have to immediately demolish every burned-out, derelict ruin we encounter, Bug. (In fact, I’m struggling not to take it personally.) There are actually a number of reasons why a fire-damaged structure might hang around longer than you consider seemly.

Depending on its location and historical status, it’s possible your wreck was subject to Portland’s Demolition Delay Ordinance. (It’s capitalized, so you know they mean business.) This law buys certain doomed residential buildings at least 35 days to be (maybe) saved by scrappy neighborhood underdogs. It’s mostly invoked to protect intact single-family homes from being leveled out of greed, but it can be used on fire-damaged structures as well, assuming someone thinks they can be saved.

Your building may also have been the subject of a fire investigation. During this, the site would need to be preserved like any other crime scene. (This would also explain the armed guards.) Having such a probe drag on for months is admittedly a stretch, but who knows; it’s been a weird year.

Then again, perhaps it just took the owners a while to get their act together. It’s not exactly rare that burned-out buildings take a few months to get knocked down.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the beefed-up security. As partial as I am to the crime-scene theory, it’s at least as likely that the landlord, who’s probably already getting sued over the fire, simply doesn’t want the additional headache of some lawyered-up klutz taking a header into the basement.

Why would someone want to explore an unstable, decaying hulk teetering on the brink of collapse? I dunno, ask my Tinder matches! (Ba-dum-TSS!) But seriously, folks: Thrill seekers, taggers and especially scrap metal thieves might easily be tempted by the site. (The latter are also exactly the type to sue you because they stepped on a nail while ripping off your stuff.) Given this risk, it’s well worth it for the property owner to hire security—especially since fire-scene security expenses are usually covered by insurance.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.