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Suggested Draft Ordinance of Public Law

interFIRE VR offers this draft ordinance of a public law that, if enacted, would enable local officials to better control blighted buildings and vacant lots. This ordinance was modeled on the Anti-Blight Law in Bridgeport, CT, the vacant lot ordinance in Aberdeen, TX & a building security "mothball" procedure devised by HUD & FEMA.

Section 1 - Declaration of Policy

It is hereby found and declared that there exist within the City of ------------------ a large number of real properties which contain vacant, abandoned or blighted buildings and the existence of said vacant and blighted properties contributes to the decline of our neighborhoods. It is further found that the existence of vacant and blighted buildings affects the economic well being of this city and is inimical to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of said neighborhoods. It is further found that many of the vacant and blighted buildings can be rehabilitated and reconstructed so as to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing and ancillary commercial facilities, and that such rehabilitation, reconstruction and reuse would eliminated, remedy and prevent the adverse conditions described above.

Section 2 - Definitions

For the purpose of this ordinance, the following words and terms shall have the meanings respectively ascribed as follows:

A. Blighted Premises - shall mean any vacant building or structure or any portion of said property that is defined by one or more of the following definitions:

(1) It is determined by the City that existing conditions pose a serious or immediate danger to the community; i.e. a life threatening condition or a condition which puts at risk the health or safety of citizens of the City.

(2) It is not being maintained; the following factors may be considered in determining whether a structure or building is not being maintained; missing or boarded windows or doors; a collapsing or missing wall, sagging or collapsed roof or floor; siding that is seriously damaged or missing; fire damaged; a foundation that is seriously damaged or missing; a foundation that is structurally faulty; or garbage, trash or abandoned cars situated on the premises (unless the premises is a legal junk yard.)

(3) It is becoming dilapidated;

(4) It has attracted illegal activity;

(5) It is a fire hazard;

(6) It is a factor in materially depreciating property values in the immediate neighborhood because of its poorly maintained condition;

(7) It is a factor creating a substantial and unreasonable interference with the reasonable and lawful use and enjoyment of other space within the building or of other premises within the neighborhood;

(8) It constitutes a health or sanitary problem.

B. "Blighted" - shall mean deteriorated, in a state of ill repair, filthy, decaying.

C. "Administrator"- shall mean the Commissioner of Codes of the City.

D. "Dilapidated"- shall mean a state of decay or partial ruin.

E. "Vacant" - shall mean a building or structure which has been unoccupied for a period of sixty (60) days or longer during which the building or a portion thereof is not legally occupied. Under the provision of this ordinance enforcement action may proceed without regard to a period of vacancy whenever any unoccupied building attracts criminal activity, is a health risk because of trash disposal or other condition, is blighted, or otherwise falls under the condition generally described in Section 1, Declaration of Policy.

F. "Legal Occupancy" - shall mean occupancy that is legal by virtue of compliance with State Building codes, State Fire Safety codes, local zoning codes, housing codes, and all other pertinent codes, which must be substantiated by a ownership, a mortgage, a lease agreement, or a rent statement.

G. "Neighborhood"- shall mean an area of the City comprised of all premises or parcels of land any part of which is within a radius of 600 feet of any part of another parcel or lot within the City limits.

H. "Unit" - shall mean any space within a building that is or can be rented by or to a single person or entity for his or its sole use, and is intended to be a single and distinct space.

I. "Vacant Parcel" - shall mean a parcel of land with no structures thereon.

Section 3. Prohibition against creation or maintenance of a blighted premises.

Any owner, or tenant under contract to maintain the premises, of real property in the City shall not cause or allow blighted premises to be created, nor shall any owner allow the continued existence of blighted premises.

Section 4. Enforcement.

(1) The Commissioner of Codes shall cause regular inspections to be made of certain of the blighted premises for the purpose of documenting continuous blight and additionally, may cause to be imposed a penalty of not more than $99.00 for each day that building or structure or unit or part thereof, is in violation of this ordinance.

(2) Each day that a building or structure or unit or part thereof, is in violation of this ordinance shall constitute a separate offense. The Administrator shall cause the imposition of said penalty by notifying the owner by certified mail at the start of the period in which fines are levied. All fines imposed for violations of this section shall be paid to a fund maintained by the City.

(3) If at a later date a State General Statute is amended or passed permitting the City to place a lien as a security for the penalty then the Commissioner of Codes may waive and release said penalties and liens in the event the City acquires the property or at the time of the sale of the blighted premises if, in his/her opinion, it is determined that the buyer has the financial ability, and the intention to immediately rehabilitate said blighted premises; and/or

(4) Violators of this ordinance shall have the right to appeal within fifteen days from the date of the imposition of the fines. Payment of fines shall be stayed until the appeal has been heard and ruled on by the hearing officer. If dissatisfied with the findings, the violator may appeal to the Superior Court.

(5) The Mayor shall appoint, with the approval of the Common Council, one (1) or more Hearing Officer(s) (the "Officer").

(6) Any department that comprises the Blighted Building Committee shall not employ the Hearing Officer(s). Officer(s) shall serve for a term of two (2) years or part thereof, which term shall commence from date of approval by the Common Council and shall end on December 31 of every even year. Officer(s) may be compensated by the city with the funds appropriated for this purpose as recommended by the Mayor and approved by the Common Council.

(7) Hearing Procedure.

(i) In scheduling formal appeal hearings, the violator shall be notified by mail of the place and time of the hearing. Such notice shall be provided at least fifteen (15) days but not more than thirty (30) days prior to the scheduled hearing date.

(ii) The procedure for the hearing shall be informal as to the rules of evidence, but testimony shall be taken under oath or affirmation.

(iii) In considering an appeal, the Hearing Officer may consider all relevant facts and circumstances and may require personal appearance of the violator and the Administrator or his/her designee.

(8) Take the necessary steps to acquire the blighted premises pursuant to the Urban Homesteading Act, State General Statute Sections _______ et. Seq. As it may be amended from time to time.

(9) Take necessary steps to pursue tax foreclosure on those properties owing back taxes to the City.

Section 5: Anti-blight Administrative Procedures

(1) The Mayor shall convene a Blighted Building Committee consisting of the Commissioner of Codes, the Chief Building Inspector, the City Engineer, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, the Director of the Office of Urban & Economic Development, the Fire Marshal, and any other City staff as deemed appropriate and to include one or more member(s)-at-large from the neighborhood committees.

The Anti-Blight Commission shall convene in a regularly scheduled meetings every thirty days or sooner. The various Commissioners, or their designees, shall attend each session.

The City Engineer shall produce an annual list of vacant buildings. The Blighted Building Committee shall add any blighted buildings they are aware of to this list. The Blighted Building committee shall review the list of vacant and blighted buildings and select those buildings for which specific strategies may be developed.

Strategies may include:

(a) Fines for blight.

The Blighted Building Committee may refer buildings to be fined in accordance with the Anti-blight Ordinance to the City Attorney who will send a certified letter to the owner instituting daily fines as provided for in the Ordinance. The Commissioner of Codes shall conduct, or cause to be conducted, regular inspections to document that the blight persists. When fines are sufficient, the City Engineer shall work with City Attorney to convert the fines to liens and initiate foreclosure or institute legal proceedings to collect the fines.

Once foreclosure is complete, the Blighted Building Committee shall dispose of the properties in a timely manner through the City Urban & Economic Redevelopment Agency according to the law.

(b) Tax Foreclosure

The Committee may refer blighted buildings to be taken by the tax foreclosure to the City Attorney for assignment to an outside legal firm hired by the City to do tax foreclosures. The City Attorney shall keep the Blighted Building Committee informed on a quarterly basis as to the status of foreclosures of referred buildings.

Once foreclosure is complete, the Blighted Building Committee shall determine how to dispose of the properties in a timely manner.

Every avenue of recovery of all costs associated with enforcement of this ordinance shall be pursued against the property owner.

(c) Rehabilitation.

The Committee may refer blighted buildings to City Urban & Economic Redevelopment Agency for acquisition and rehabilitation through the Urban Homesteading Program or other appropriate rehabilitation programs as resources permit.

Section 6: Weed Control; Vacant Lots

(1) It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, corporation, partnership, association of persons, owner, agent, occupant or anyone having supervision or control of any lot, tract, parcel of land or portion thereof, occupied or unoccupied, improved or unimproved, within the corporate limits of the City to suffer or permit grass, weeds or brush that is uncultivated to grow to a greater height than twelve (12) inches on any lot, tract, parcel or land within the corporate limits of the city, five acres in size or less.

On tracts of land more than five (5) acres, it shall be unlawful to suffer or permit grass, weeds or brush in excess of twelve (12) inches in height to grow uncultivated within one hundred feet adjacent to and along any dedicated public way within the corporate limits of the City or within one hundred (100) feet on either side of any lot that is occupied by a residence or business.

(2) Notice to Property Owners; annual notice.

When any violation of this article is found to exist, a notice by letter will be addressed to the owner of the property in question; or if the address of the property owner is unknown, then notice may be given by publication one time in a local, daily newspaper of general circulation.

Annual notice may be given to property owners, as above provided, prior to the grass growing season. A notice published in a local newspaper with wide circulation shall suffice.

Upon the giving of said notice, no further notice shall be required pursuant to this article.

(3) Official Notice of violation

The notice of violation shall contain the following wording:

(a) You are required to maintain your property so as to keep grass, brush & weeds at a height of less than twelve (12) inches;

(b) In the event you fail to do so, the city will enter upon your property and mow it or have it mowed at thirty (30) day intervals during such annual growing season;

(c) You have ten (10) days from the date of this notice to correct the violation; and,

(d) Tall weeds are a breeding ground for rats & mice; and are a source of fuel for many fires. Help us clean up City.

(4) Action by city.

In addition to court action, the city may enter upon the property found in violation of this article and mow, or have said property mowed, at thirty-day intervals during such annual growing season in the event such owner fails to mow same.

(5) Assessment of city's expenses

Expenses incident to the action taken by the city to correct any condition coming under the provisions of this article which includes a service charge to cover administrative costs, plus a penalty charge of ten dollars ($10.00) shall be assessed against the owners of all outstanding interests in the lot or parcel of land involved. An itemized bill of such costs shall be mailed by the city accountant to each such owner f his address is known.

(6) City's expenses declared a lien; recovery

If the bill for the city's expenses in correcting any condition coming under the provisions of this article, including the administrative and penalty charges, shall remain unpaid for a period of thirty (30) days after the date of the mailing of such bill, the city accountant shall file a statement of such bill, and the reasons thereof with the city clerk.

From the date of such filing, the city shall have a lien on the lot or parcel upon which expenses are incurred second only to tax liens and liens for street improvements. The amount of such debt shall accumulate interest at the rate of ten (10) per cent per annum from the date on which payment was due. For any such debt and interest , suit may be instituted and recovery and foreclosure had in the name of the city. In such suits the aforementioned statement, or certified copy thereof, shall be deemed prima facie evidence of the debt and interest thereof.

Section 7 - Security for Vacant Buildings

This ordinance further defines security procedures designed to help property owners maintain the equity value of their properties and prevent blight by preventing damaging from theft, burglary, weather, garbage and other problems associated with improperly secured vacant buildings.

This Ordinance shall describe the only acceptable manner in which vacant buildings officially classified by said Anti-Blight Committee as blighted or which fall within the provisions of this Ordinance; Section 2 Definitions, sub-section A. Blighted Premises, shall be heretofore secured within the City. Securing buildings in any other less effective fashion shall constitute an unacceptable violation of this Ordinance. The Anti-Blight Committee shall have the authority to order building owners to fully comply or otherwise take whatever measures are necessary to bring said building into full compliance and attach a lien on the value of the parcel to recover all costs plus a penalty of 10% of the aggregate.

Section 8 - Requirement for the security of Vacant, blighted buildings:

I. Disconnect all utilities at the street

1. Turn off water at the street & drain the plumbing system at its lowest point. Open all faucets and put anti-freeze in all traps containing water.

2. Have the utility company disconnect electricity at the street and remove and cap meters.

3. Shut off LNG supply at the street. Disconnect and remove LPG tanks and heating oil tanks.

II. Remove all flammables and combustibles from inside and outside

1. Remove all upholstered furniture, combustible materials and trash from the building, including the basement and attic.

2. Remove trash and trash containers and combustible furniture from exterior stairwells, porches, fire escapes and outbuildings.

3. Remove shrubbery and vegetation adjacent to the building that could support or spread a fire.

III. Secure the building to prevent entry/vandalism/weather damage/fire.

1. Search the entire building to insure that it is unoccupied.

2. Remove doors and storm windows and place inside.

3. Post the building according to local law with "No Trespassing" signs.

4. Construct entrance barriers using the following materials & methods:

Materials Needed

a. 1/2" (4 ply) plywood, exterior grade CDX and 2" by 4" by 8' construction grade lumber

b. 3/8" (course thread) by 12" carriage bolts (rounded head on weather side)

c. 3/8"(course thread) construction grade nuts

d. 1/2" (USS Standard) Flat washers with an inside diameter large enough to bypass the wrench neck inside the carriage bolt head so no lift edge is available beneath an installed carriage bolt head.

e. 3/8" (USS Standard) diameter flat washers for installation beneath the nut inside the building

f. 1-5/8" (6d) galvanized or stainless steel ring-shank nails or comparable deck nails.

Security Measures

1. Openings in the basement, first floor doors and windows and any point of entry accessible from a porch, fire escape or other potential climbing point require additional security measures. These openings should be barricaded with plywood, 2x4s braces, carriage bolt sets and nails.

2. Openings that are at least 10' from ground level which are not accessible from a porch, fire escape, roof, or other climbing point can be secured with nails in each brace, and every 12" around the perimeter. For all openings the plywood should be fitted so that it rests snugly against the exterior frame, butting up to the siding on wood frame buildings and up to the brick molding edge on brick buildings. It may be necessary to remove the staff bead so this fit can be flush and tight. If possible carpenters should plywood & stub brace over the edge of the trimmer studs on each window and door casing and meeting the header board.

Barrier Procedure

1. Applying barriers is easiest with a inside & outside carpenter with appropriate tools & supplies. The inside carpenter will need a light. Exit is made over a ladder when the last window is boarded.

2. Cut plywood to fit over the window and door openings, flush with outside of the molding/trimmer stud. Avoid creating or leaving a lift surface if possible.

3. Cut the 2x4s to fit the horizontal dimension of the plywood. You will need two exterior and two interior 2x4 braces for each window and three sets for each door.

4. Drill two 3/8" holes in each brace, approximately 1/3 of the length of the brace from the outside edge of the door and window jams.

5. Prior to installation stack both 2x4 braces on the plywood as they will be installed & drilling through all for ease in installation.

6. The two window braces will be placed 1/3 of the distance from the top and the bottom of the window.

7. The three door braces will be placed: one in the center of the doorway and one 1/2 the distance from the center to the top and one 1/2 distance from the center to the bottom of the doorway.

8. Place the plywood over the exterior opening and nail every 12" along the perimeter to the window/door frame.

9. Place the 2x4 braces over the interior and exterior of the door or window.

10. Place the large washer over the carriage bolt and slide the bolt through the holes.

11. Place washer and nut inside and tighten securely. Torque the nut so that it slightly compresses the interior 2x4.

12. Paint said barriers the same color as the structure to minimize the appearance.

Section 9 - Severability

If any provision of this ordinance or the application thereof shall be held invalid or unenforceable. The reminder of this ordinance, or the application of such terms or provisions to persons or circumstances other than those as to which it is held invalid or unenforceable, shall not be affected thereby, and each remaining term and provision thereof shall be deemed valid and be enforceable to the fullest extent permitted by law.

This Ordinance shall take affect upon adoption.

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