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Mayor Purzycki proposes bills tackling blight

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Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki today proposed a series of ordinances to help reduce blight caused by vacant and neglected properties.

The four bills would:

  • shift the enforcement of housing code requirements from criminal to civil
  • strengthen the Vacant Property Registration Fee Program
  • strengthen the Nuisance Property Program
  • simplify the residential rental license fee
  • permit the Commissioner of L&I to mandate training for landlords who maintain nuisance properties

“Blighted and vacant properties weaken neighborhoods, encourage criminal activity, inhibit economic development, undermine otherwise stable real estate markets, and encourage irresponsible property owners to continue their detrimental behavior,” said Purzycki. “The legislative and policy reforms I am proposing today will enhance the City’s ability to reduce vacant and blighted properties and prevent other properties from becoming destabilizing forces in neighborhoods.”

The Mayor’s Office provided the following summaries of the legislation:

 

  1. Ordinance Amending Chapter 34 to Change Enforcement of the Housing Code from Criminal to Civil and to Strengthen the Vacant Property Registration ProgramCriminal to Civil EnforcementThe current criminal enforcement process is at times labor-intensive, time consuming and subjects property owners to criminal prosecution for minor housing code violations. The change to civil enforcement will significantly strengthen the City’s ability to enforce its housing code by speeding up the overall enforcement process. Under the revised process, a civil fine will be imposed on a property owner who fails to correct a violation after receiving notice of the violation and an opportunity to make repairs. The amount of the fine ($100, $250, or $1,000) is based on the severity of the code violation. If a property owner fails to pay his or her fine, the unpaid fine will become a lien on the property, forming the basis for a potential sheriff sale of the property. This proposal would also create a two-tiered administrative appeal process permitting a property owner to challenge City enforcement actions.Vacant Property Registration Program

    This proposal is intended to reduce the approximately 1,650 vacant properties in Wilmington by encouraging more productive use of vacant properties and creating a barrier to long-term vacant properties. Wilmington’s Vacant Property Registration Program (VPR) enables the City to accurately identify those responsible for the maintenance of vacant properties and deters owners and real estate speculators from keeping properties vacant for long periods of time.  Since 2003, the City has applied a fee based upon the total number of years a property remains vacant with the fees increasing over time. Under the Mayor’s proposal, the VPR fee schedule would remain unchanged for the first three years of vacancy, but would substantially increase for properties that have remained vacant for four or more years. Under the proposed new fee schedule, properties vacant for less than one year would be assessed no fee; properties vacant for one year would be assessed $500; properties vacant for two years would be assessed $1,000; properties vacant for three years would be assessed $5,000; properties vacant for four years would now be assessed $10,000; properties vacant for five years would now be assessed $12,000; properties vacant for six years would now be assessed $14,000; properties vacant for seven years would now be assessed $16,000; and properties vacant for eight or more years would now be assessed $16,000 plus $2,000 for each subsequent year of vacancy beyond seven years.

    Vacant properties, particularly blighted, long-term vacant properties, attract criminal activity and destabilize our neighborhoods.  Under this reform, debt on vacant properties will amass more quickly and, therefore, the City would have the option to take a property to sheriff sale sooner to prevent further deterioration of the property. The proposed Ordinance also establishes a strong deterrent against failing to register vacant properties as required under current law, by imposing a $2,500 fine. The VPR revisions also require the registration of buildings that are vacant for 6 consecutive months rather than the current 45 consecutive days which provides property owners with a longer period of time to remedy a vacancy before the City’s registration requirements are imposed. The last reform includes two measures designed to 1) allow the Land Bank to focus its resources on decreasing the number of vacant properties in Wilmington; and 2) encourage acquisition of properties from the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank. Under the proposed Ordinance, vacant properties owned by the Land Bank are exempt from the VPR. Additionally, any party acquiring a property from the Land Bank will be billed a vacant registration fee based on the duration of vacancy from the time he or she received the building from the Land Bank, rather than a fee based on the total number of years the building was vacant prior to the new party receiving the building.

  2. Ordinance Amending Chapter 5 to Increase the Residential Rental License FeeThis proposed Ordinance establishes an annual rental license fee of $100 per unit with a cap of $2,500 per owner. The City currently charges $50 to individuals owning one or two units and $120, plus $10 per unit, to those individuals owning three or more units. This proposal brings the City more in line with rental license fees charged by other cities and provides additional resources to support City code enforcement.
  3. Ordinance Amending Chapter 5 to Increase the Time Period for Assessing Nuisance Points Under the City’s Nuisance Property Program

This proposed Ordinance amends Wilmington’s Nuisance Property Program (NPP) to reinforce the intent of the NPP — holding property owners accountable for failing to abate nuisances. This reform modifies the definition of a public nuisance to extend the time period during which points may accumulate to better capture nuisance activity affecting the public interest. Enforcement action may be taken against properties accumulating 20 or more points within an 18 month period versus the current standard of 18 or more points within a 12 month period.

4. Ordinance Amending Chapter 5 to Repeal the Mandatory Landlord Training License Requirement

This proposed Ordinance repeals mandatory landlord training as a requirement of a rental business license. Instead, it focuses attention on landlords who fail to abate nuisance activity that is occurring on their properties. This reform permits the Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections to require attendance and completion of a City-approved landlord training program (at the landlord’s expense) as a condition for the issuance of a provisional business license.  The issuance of a provisional business license is triggered by a notice issued to a property owner under the NPP and the failure of the owner to abate the nuisance conditions.

The four Ordinances are sponsored by 8th District City Council Member Charles “Bud” Freel. Mayor Purzycki said he is looking forward to a full Council review of the Ordinances which are intended to prevent blight and vacant properties from harming neighborhoods. The Council’s Community Development and Urban Planning Committee will discuss the proposals on Thursday, November 9th at 5 p.m.

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