1. Code Enforcement
Enforcing the Building and Property Maintenance codes are a prevention strategy worth the investment. Consider the multiple times that representatives of the police department, fire department, utility department, code department and city officials are called to vacant and dilapidated properties. Each visit is a cost to the taxpayer. This is in addition to the decreased property values and the possible tax revenues lost to communities that have problem properties. If codes are not enforced, “at risk” properties soon start a revolving door of new problems.
According to a recent article by Joe Deneault in the Charleston Gazette, “a Philadelphia study in 2001, found that houses within 150 feet of a vacant or abandoned property experienced an average net loss of $8627 in value and $49 million in lost tax revenues related to vacant and abandoned properties.”
The following is a Checklist for Dilapidated Property Enforcement of the Fayette County Dilapidated and Beautification Ordinance. This was drawn up by their attorney; however, each governing entity will need their own checklist written by their attorney in accordance with their local code.
Coming soon: Sample Checklist for Dilapidated Property Enforcement, as used by Fayette County.
2. Calculate the decrease in property values that will occur if the code is not enforced using the attached template. The template below contains a sample calculation. Consult with an appraiser or the assessor to determine the percentage of decrease in property values for each measure of distance from the affected site. Fill out the form and calculate the total decrease.
Coming soon: Calculation of Property Values Template
3. Establish an Emergency Loan Program
Some cities in partnership with local non-profits have set up emergency loans for lower-income or elderly property owners so that they can bring their property into compliance.
Some cities have set up emergency loan funds for home owners that are at risk of foreclosure. Some need to re-organize their debt or some may be between jobs and clearly will be able to make payments in the near future. These loan programs are usually capped at a certain amount. Some are forgiven if the property owner stays in the home, but in the case of foreclosure the loan funds are due on sale. While administering a program such as this can be challenging, there are opportunities for local government to partner with many non-profit organizations throughout the state that that have experience in administering loan funds.
Coming soon: Sample Municipal Home Repair Loan Fund
4. Increase Fees
Some local governments triple the fees and taxes of vacant and dilapidated buildings that have owners that live out of state. This is a strong incentive for the owners to keep their buildings occupied and in good shape.
5. Utilize Large Signs for Citations on Properties with Vacant Buildings
A citation that is large enough for the public to see as they drive by, may encourage the property owner and others as well, to comply with the regulations.
6. Strategies to Address the Problem of Heirs’ Property
WV Code addresses this problem in 37-4-3 of the code. Joint heirs are compelled to partition the property and the heir that accepts the property must pay the others a fair share. Problems develop when heirs cannot be found. In some states, the law allows for the local government to take possession of the property after all reasonable means of contacting the heirs have been exhausted. The properties are put into a land bank, where the titles can be cleared and then they are sold or deeded back to the remaining heirs or to a non-profit or for-profit development corporation.
7. Involve Citizens in Identifying Vacant Property
Enlist the help of citizens in identifying vacant property either by using their help in doing a survey or by encouraging them to report vacant properties to the Code Enforcement Department. A form can be put on the website of the local government.
Coming soon: Sample Form