WINSLOW — Almost six months after adopting rules to regulate vacant and abandoned buildings in town, only two property owners have gotten the required permit from the town’s Code Enforcement Office, a fraction of the estimated empty properties.

Code Enforcement Officer Dabney Lewis said Thursday that his office doesn’t have the resources to go out looking for abandoned property, but expects more owners to register with the town as they get used to the ordinance.

“We’re taking care of them as they come up. We’re not looking for them,” Lewis said. “We don’t have the time or the resources to go hunting for them.”

The office is sending out notices to owners based on properties it knows have been vacant for a long time as well as complaints from neighbors. It will likely take years before a lot of properties are registered, Lewis said.

Other communities, including Augusta and Bangor, have similar rules to take care of blighted property. In many cases, buildings are in foreclosure for years and are technically owned by out-of-state banks or mortgage companies that are difficult to reach or pressure into cleaning up run-down buildings.

In September, the Winslow Town Council passed an ordinance that requires the owners of vacant and abandoned buildings to register annually with the town for a $250 fee, provide contact information for a property manager to take care of the property, and submit to a building inspection, among other rules. The ordinance includes required maintenance standards aimed at keeping vacant buildings safe and secure to prevent vandalism, trash accumulation and dilapidation.

Since the ordinance was passed, two property owners have registered with the town, and the code enforcement office has sent three letters to building owners asking them to comply, according to town records.

One of the registered properties is a building on Halifax Street owned by Caliber Home Loans, a national mortgage lender that listed its office in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The second is a single-family home on Clinton Avenue owned by the Maine Housing Authority. According to its registration, the house is on the market with a real estate agent.

A third home on South Pond Road reported as vacant did not have to be registered because the owner could not heat the mobile home during the winter, but intended to move back in the spring, according to town records. Winslow’s ordinance exempts owners of seasonal residences and active-duty military from having to register vacant homes.

Judy Mathiau, Winslow’s assessor, estimates there may be up to 50 properties in town that are likely in the foreclosure process and aren’t lived in.

Mathiau lists property she suspects is vacant every year during tax assessments and intends to refer those properties to code enforcement this year so the office can notify owners of the town’s new rules.

Augusta passed an ordinance similar to Winslow’s last October and has since registered a dozen vacant and abandoned buildings, said Keith Luke, the city’s deputy director for development services.

Like Winslow, Augusta’s Code Enforcement Office isn’t going out to track down abandoned buildings, but knows the location of many serious cases through reports from public safety and residents’ complaints, Luke said.

“We are not combing through neighborhoods looking for abandoned properties,” he said.

Augusta is also similar to Winslow and other communities in that most of the vacant property is owned by out-of-state mortgage companies or banks, and trying to work through the chain of ownership is hard, Luke said.

“Running down any one of these subject properties can fruitlessly eat up an entire week easily to determine who is in possession and who is the responsible entity,” Luke said.

Although the Winslow registration program has gotten off to a slow start, Councilor Ben Twitchell, who proposed the ordinance, said it has forced some building owners to address blighted properties.

One dilapidated former mill building on Halifax Street was torn down after the ordinance was adopted and other building owners are fixing their buildings, he said.

“There were some buildings that were basically in bad repair. I was hoping this would spur the owners to take care of them and it has,” Twitchell said. His intent with the ordinance was to give the town an option to deal with unsafe buildings, not generate a list of vacant properties, he added.

“We haven’t gotten to the point of doing a survey, and at this point I don’t think we need to,” he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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