AUGUSTA — City councilors approved an ordinance requiring the owners of buildings left vacant for more than 60 days to register their properties with the city and provide contact information for someone who can be reached if the property becomes a hazard to the public.

The ordinance, which could be joined later this year by a separate property maintenance ordinance that a council committee is working on, was created in response to concerns expressed by residents about vacant homes and other buildings, most of them foreclosed upon by large financial institutions, left unmaintained and unsecured in their neighborhoods.

While the ordinance alone won’t be able to prevent those situations, councilors said, it at least gives the city a way to reach someone responsible for the properties to try to get them to address problems that occur there.

“It is unfortunate we have to do this in our community, but some of these properties are not really being good neighbors,” Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said. “This is a small step but an important step in trying to address these issues.”

Councilors approved the ordinance unanimously Thursday night.

“I haven’t had anybody say to me this is a bad thing,” At-Large Councilor Cecil Munson said. “All appreciate the fact we’re concerned about their property values and that this will help move some of those really derelict situations into the light so they can be dealt with.”

The ordinance was written after residents expressed concern that unmaintained, unlocked buildings could attract thieves, vandals or squatters and harm the value and appearance of other homes in the neighborhoods where they are located.

The ordinance as originally proposed would have required owners of buildings vacant for 60 days or more to register with the city and pay a fee — $200 for commercial entities such as banks or $100 for individual owners — every six months and provide contact information for someone who could be reached should there be a problem with the property.

However, the originally proposed ordinance was modified to apply only to buildings that are both vacant and abandoned after some building owners, residents and city councilors expressed concern that the original ordinance draft would have had the unintended consequence of forcing fees upon people who don’t deserve it, such as homeowners who might need to leave their homes behind for a variety of reasons, such as for medical care or to help tend to others, “snowbirds” who leave their Maine homes for the winter, people selling their homes, and landlords who either are renovating their property or have buildings that are between tenants.

Councilors thus directed the city staff to modify the ordinance so it would not apply to all vacant buildings, but instead only to vacant buildings that also are abandoned. The city ordinance’s definition of what makes a building considered abandoned is modeled on recently passed state legislation that includes any building that has been foreclosed upon.

The ordinance’s goal is to help the city prevent and address problems arising mainly from buildings foreclosed on by large banks and left vacant, unsecured or unmaintained, according to Grant, who, along with at-large Councilors Cecil Munson and Dale McCormick, drafted the proposal on the Vacant Properties Committee. By requiring the owners of such buildings to register and to provide contact information for a responsible person, the city at least would be able to reach somebody to order the person to take care of problems at the properties. Grant said the problem generally involves out-of-state businesses, not local financial institutions.

Another committee, led by Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett, is working on creating a new property maintenance ordinance that could set minimum property-maintenance requirements applying to all buildings in the city. Grant said that ordinance could pair with the vacant and abandoned properties registry to enable the city to prevent buildings from being allowed to deteriorate.

Blodgett said the property maintenance proposal should “make its debut within a few weeks.”

Vacant buildings also could be considered abandoned and thus subject to the requirements of the ordinance if any one of the following applies to mortgaged properties:

• Doors and windows are boarded up, broken or left unlocked.

• Rubbish, trash or debris has accumulated observably.

• The premises are deteriorating and constitute a threat to public health or safety.

• Reports of trespassing, vandalism or other illegal acts on the premises have been made to local police.

• A code enforcement officer has determined the premises are unfit for occupancy.

• The mortgagor is dead and there is no evidence an heir or representative has taken possession of the premises.

Specific exceptions also are noted in the proposed Augusta ordinance on vacant buildings: those owned by people in assisted-living facilities, properties that are listed for sale or being actively managed as rental properties, primary residences owned by deployed members of the armed forces, vacation or resort facilities, residences of people on extended vacations or with alternative living arrangements who intend to return to the property, and residences undergoing renovation.

Bangor passed a similar ordinance requiring owners of buildings vacant for more than 60 days to register with the city in 2013. Augusta officials used that ordinance as a model in crafting Augusta’s ordinance.

No members of the public commented on the ordinance Thursday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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