A pair of overnight fires in West Bay this past weekend has sparked concern among North West Point Road residents about the security of their homes.
Although police announced a quick arrest of the person suspected of starting the fires, there are several homes along the stretch of road where flames broke out, which are either abandoned, standing empty, or in transition between owners.
Police said neither of the two homes where the fires started was occupied. It’s believed the person who started them broke into both homes.
Seventy-five year-old Eula Glidden and her husband Cline Glidden Sr. live next door to one of the houses that caught fire overnight Saturday. She said she was awakened by neighbours screaming ‘fire’ and pounding on her door.
‘I thought it was my house on fire,’ Mrs. Glidden said. ‘It was a scary thing.’
The long-time West Bay resident said one of the homes that caught fire is owned, but was simply unoccupied at the time. The other had been sold several times and has been empty for about four to six months, she said.
A small home, just down the street from where the fires started, sustained severe damage in Hurricane Ivan and has been abandoned for years.
Another 1,000 feet down North West Point Road from that home are two other empty houses which were also damaged during Ivan and remain empty.
Mrs. Glidden said she hadn’t thought about it before the weekend fires, but is now making sure her security system is up to date and that her outside lights are switched on at night.
‘I had not been worried about it until this happened,’ she said. ‘In particular, the firemen or police asked me if I had heard any knocking on the door. They said someone’s apparently been walking down the iron shore, knocking on doors.
‘I have never experienced any fear about opening up the back door and going out at night. I guess I’m still in the mode of what Cayman used to be like.’
Mrs. Glidden’s son, West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr., said the issue of homes being abandoned or lying empty along that stretch of road really hasn’t been a factor since most of the properties especially those along the water are high dollar.
‘But now that the houses have been left alone and someone has chosen to target them for arson is obviously very concerning to all the residents in the area,’ Mr. Glidden said.
The issue of vacant houses being left unattended in a neighbourhood is not new to Cayman. Most notably, Bodden Town representatives fought for more than two years to get one Ivan-damaged home near the public beach torn down. Its owner was believed to be in Taiwan and was unreachable, according to government officials.
There is no provision in Cayman Islands law that allows government to seize privately-owned land or homes, other than the Land Acquisition Law, which allows the taking of private property for public projects such as road construction.
The government does have the power to order homeowners to clean up derelict property, but MLAs pointed out last year that those laws don’t have a lot of teeth. (see Caymanian Compass, 8 March, 2007)
There is a process under the Planning Law, which involves issuance of abatement notices that can eventually bring a property owner to court. Maximum fines upon conviction are $200 initially and $10 per day if the land isn’t cleaned up.
Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden has asked the government to draft new legislation to allow higher fines for derelict property owners, and which would require homeowners to keep their properties in good repair.