Assuming that states are doing all they can to equip municipalities with the authority to take swift and direct action, there are several mechanisms local governments can turn to when dealing with vacant homes.
As noted in Vacant and Abandoned Properties: Survey and Best Practices (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008), city governments of all sizes and in every region of the country are attempting to employ abandoned property strategies. They are doing this by:
- Preempting the problem by preventing abandonment
- Inventorying and gaining control of properties to minimize the problems created
- Fostering the reuse of properties
Some cities have developed comprehensive, citywide strategies while others focus on a particular aspect of the problem.
How Cities Can Respond through Code Enforcement
Housing, property maintenance, and zoning officials are employed by cities, towns, parishes, counties and state governments to enforce ordinances intended to provide minimum standards for the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. In many cities, the number of vacant properties has grown so large that code enforcement agencies are overwhelmed. Municipalities are strengthening codes in order to use code enforcement as a tool to gain control of vacant properties.
In Chula Vista, California, the local code enforcement manager authored a city ordinance – called the Residential Abandoned Property Program – that holds lenders responsible for the condition of their abandoned or financially distressed properties.
The Residential Abandoned Property Program:
- Requires lenders to register vacant foreclosed properties with the city to include the name of the lender and the person responsible for maintaining the property
- Outlines specific maintenance requirements for the property including garbage and debris removal, lawn maintenance, graffiti, and other requirements
- Requires properties that are owned by corporations or out-of-town entities to hire a local property management firm to prevent the abandoned homes from becoming neglected
- Requires that there be a posting on the property that identifies who to call to report problems and concerns, plus requires the property manager to inspect the property on a weekly basis
- States that violators that do not maintain their properties can be fined between $100 and $1,000 a day for each property that is unkempt
- Allows the city to place a lien on the property if the violator does not pay this fine
This ordinance has become a model for other cities and is protecting Chula Vista neighborhoods from blight. The author of the ordinance has been contacted by over 150 cities that are asking for help in creating similar legislation.
Read the ordinance
News Release from City of Chula Vista