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Vacant properties law back on the table

  • Empty
    The Marina Abramovic Institute at 620 Columbia St. sits dormant.
  • Empty
    A vacant property on State Street.
August 14, 2018 11:35 pm

HUDSON — The Common Council introduced some changes to its proposed vacant building registry law Monday after Mayor Rick Rector vetoed the first version two weeks ago.

If passed, the law will add a chapter to the city code to require property owners to register vacant homes with the city and pay a fine each year that the property sits idle. The law defines a vacant building as a building that is unoccupied and unsecured or illegally occupied.

The revised proposed law was reintroduced at the Common Council’s informal meeting Monday. Councilmembers will vote on the proposed law at 7 p.m. Aug. 21.

Rector vetoed the law after a public hearing was held Aug. 1. Rector wrote to the Common Council in his veto that the law needed some revisions based on conversations with Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh.

“It is my hope that issues brought forth by Mr. Haigh will be addressed by the Common Council and resubmitted in the near future,” according to the Rector’s veto dated Aug. 2.

Most of the law remains the same, but with some key differences and redactions.

The Common Council removed a portion of the law that would have required owners to register their vacant properties with the city and put up a $10,000 bond to reimburse the city for any expenses incurred in maintaining the property if it is neglected. Maintenance fees, such as fees for city workers to shovel the sidewalk or mow the grass of neglected properties, would be added to the owner’s property tax bill, according to the new version of the proposed law.

Property owners will be required to register vacant buildings no more than 30 days after a building becomes vacant, or 30 days after receiving a notice from Haigh, according to the revised law.

The fine for owning a vacant property would be $1,000 for the first year, $2,000 for the second year, $3,000 for the third, $4,000 for the fourth year and $5,000 for the fifth year, according to the proposed law.

“It takes 365 days after the property owner receives a remediation notice that the property is declared vacant,” Volo said.

The fees will not go into effect until a year after the house is declared vacant and the property owner receives a remediation notice from Code Enforcement, Volo said.

Under the law, a resident can report when they observe a vacant property to City Code Enforcement Department and the code enforcement officer will investigate. If the property is determined to be vacant, the property owner will receive a remediation notice and has up to one year before the property is declared vacant, Volo said.

Third Ward Supervisor Michael Chameides asked his fellow councilmembers if they considered fining based on units or square footage, meaning lower income properties might pay less in fines than a 20-unit building.

“That was brought up at the housing committee and I heard constituents reference that that would be a good idea,” Chameides said.

The fines are based on time it takes to administer the law, not necessarily the market value of the property, city attorney Andy Howard said.

“It is not a tax — it is a fine for executing this legislation,” Volo said. “We can only fine up to the cost of implement this law.”

The city’s code enforcement officer will annually report all buildings declared vacant under the provisions of the article, according to the revised proposed law. Before revisions were made, the city code enforcement officer was required to present the Common Council with a list of vacant properties twice each year — by April 15 and Oct. 15.

As of July 31, the city had 280 vacant commercial, industrial and residential properties, assessor Justin Maxwell said.

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to apurcell@thedailymail.net, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.