Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Proposed Laws Aim to Discourage Vacant Buildings

By Christina Georgiou

A set of new ordinances that would charge property owner escalating fees over years for allowing buildings to remain vacant in the city and that would allow the city to rectify problems with  vacant properties that are not properly maintained  is up for a final vote at Wednesday evening's Easton City Council meeting, and the expectation is that it will be approved.

City officials say that it has been increasingly difficult to locate owners of forclosed homes and other properties in the city, as banks sell and transfer mortgage titles, and many commercial owners are failing to maintain the vacant properties. As a result, the properties are falling into disrepair, leading to a decline in values of both the affected and surrounding properties.

The situation is also transforming formerly maintained structures into "attractive nuisances" and leading to "a decrease in neighborhood and community aesthetics and cohesion", the proposed ordinance states.

The new law will require the owners of vacant properties to register with the city and provide a designated manager that lives in or within 30 miles of the city to be responsible for property upkeep and maintenance.

Owners of vacant properties will also be required to register with the city for an initial fee of $250 per tax parcel number or number of structures, whichever is greater, and then pay a $500 fee to the city if the property is vacant for a year. Properties that remain vacant for a number of years will pay an ever-increasing annual fee, which tops out at $5,000 when a property has been vacant for a decade, with a $500 additional fee for every further year beyond 10 the structure remains vacant.

The idea behind the law is to get owners of vacant properties to either do something productive  with them or sell them to another owner that will, rather than just sitting on the investment, city officials have said.

The requirement to register such properties will not only raise revenue for the city, officials have said, but will also help build a list and give officials an idea of how many such properties there are. No such list or city data base currently does so.

Properties that fall into such disrepair that they are designated as "blighted" by the city will be subject to additional fees of set amounts for the maintenance problems, such as broken windows, peeling paint or unmown grass to be rectified.

The fee schedule also includes legal fees to be recovered for such things as reviewing the case and letters demanding a situation be rectified, ranging from $60 to 225 per hour, depending on the situation.

The three new proposed ordinances, Bills No. 28, 29 and 30, are available for review at the Easton city clerk's office during business hours.

Public input is allowed at each Easton City Council meeting on agenda items prior to the vote.

The matter is expected to be voted on at Wednesday's meeting, June 12, beginning at 6 p.m., in the sixth floor city council chambers in Easton City Hall, 1 South Third St.

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