A local law introduced by Mayor Ann Thane at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting will create a new chapter in the city code that specifically defines the conditions that must exist at a property in order to declare it “vacant” and “at-risk”, as well as the steps the city may take to address those conditions.
Currently, chapter 92 of the city’s code addresses “dangerous” or “unsafe” properties, and requires the city notify the property owner by registered mail and hold a hearing before either repairing or demolishing the structure. The new ordinance would not replace that chapter or allow the property to be demolished, but rather allow for the city to take quick action to stabilize a property without having to notify the owner by mail or hold a hearing.
“[Fire Chief Michael Whitty] was looking at the mechanism we use now to basically secure buildings that are open,” said Corporation Council DeCusatis, who helped draft the measure. “It’s kind of cumbersome if the only problem really is that the door has been kicked in and somebody needs to board it up. So this kind of addresses that problem. And in the context of addressing it, we kind of looked at a way to streamline it a bit.”
“The remedies here are positive steps,” he added.
According to the draft, in order to be declared “at risk”, the property must exhibit the following conditions:
- Being unsecured, unlocked and open to access by persons, through unlocked doors, windows or other openings.
- Being unheated and not winterized to prevent damage caused by freezing
- Having broken windows or other openings allowing potential entry of nuisance wildlife or vermin.
- Having broken windows or other openings that impair the ability of the heating system of the property to prevent freezing damage.
- Having deteriorated roofing systems or other building components that are accelerating the deterioration of the property or creating structural instability.
- Being loaded with flammable materials or hazardous materials in violation of uniform fire or property maintenance codes.
In order to be determined “vacant”, the property must exhibit the following conditions:
- For a building provided with electric or gas meters, the property is considered vacant if either the electric or gas meter is disconnected or otherwise disabled
- For a building provided with water or sewer connections, the property is considered vacant if either the water or sewer service is disconnected or otherwise disabled
- For a building that is either residential living space or commercial property and a person is not present at the time of inspection who identifies as an occupant or is present with the occupants permission, and the property appears unoccupied based on an absence of personal property or the physical condition of the property.
- For a building that is a garage or other ancillary structure as defined in Chapter 250, if the primary structure is vacant or in the absence of a primary structure if doors are unlocked and a person is not present at the time of inspection who identifies as an occupant or is present with occupant’s permission.
If any building is identified as both “at risk” and “vacant”, the city can conduct the following remedial actions:
- Boarding up open or broken doors and windows
- Installing locks on unlocked openings
- Winterizing plumbing and heating systems
- Turning of municipal water
- Repairs to the roof or other structural components to prevent deterioration
- Removal of flammable or hazardous contents…
- Periodic inspection of the building
- Installation of monitoring devices to detect building scavengers, vandals or fire
Either the Zoning Department or Fire Department may enforce the ordinance. As with chapter 92 of the city code, the cost of the repairs may be billed to the property owner, and added to the property’s tax bill if unpaid for over 30 days.
The law will be on the agenda at the next Common Council meeting to be voted on. Because the ordinance is being created by a local law, a public hearing will be held after the council vote, but before the mayor approves the law.