OLR Research Report


October 16, 2013

 

2013-R-0331

MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY TO ADDRESS BLIGHT

By: Julia Singer Bansal, Legislative Analyst II

Rute Pinho, Associate Analyst

You asked for a brief description of state laws authorizing municipalities to regulate and address blight.

SUMMARY

A search of the statutes shows numerous provisions that authorize municipalities to regulate and address blighted properties, which this report groups into three general categories: (1) preventing and remediating blight, (2) redeveloping blighted and abandoned properties, and (3) providing financial incentives to encourage property owners to remediate or redevelop blighted properties.

The first category includes various mechanisms municipalities may use to prevent and remediate blight. Some are narrowly tailored to municipal anti-blight efforts, such as those authorizing municipalities to adopt and enforce blight ordinances, fine owners for violating these ordinances, or impose liens and levy special assessments to recover unpaid blight fines and remediation costs. Others apply more broadly to blighted properties. For example, municipalities may choose to regulate bight through zoning or public health, building, or fire safety code enforcement.

The second category includes several different statutes that allow municipalities to redevelop blighted or abandoned properties. For example, under the Urban Homesteading Program, municipally designated urban homesteading agencies can acquire abandoned buildings and transfer them to qualified parties. The agencies can also provide assistance to help qualified applicants buy and rehabilitate abandoned properties.

The third category comprises various financial incentives that municipalities may use to encourage property owners to rehabilitate or redevelop blighted properties, including property tax abatements or fixed, deferred, or reduced assessments.

In addition to statutes allowing municipalities to address blight, the law authorizes additional tools that the state may use to combat blight. For example, CGS 19a-343 allows the state to bring an action to abate a public nuisance when three or more citations for certain municipal ordinance violations (e.g., excessive noise at a nonresidential property) are issued at a property within a year. CGS 54-33g allows the state to institute a civil forfeiture action if property is possessed, controlled, designed, used, or intended for use during the commission of a criminal offense. In addition, CGS 7-148o imposes a state fine for each day a willful violation of a municipal blight ordinance continues after a person receives written notice and has a reasonable opportunity to remediate the conditions.

BLIGHT PREVENTION AND REMEDIATION

Table 1 summarizes state laws that authorize municipalities to prevent and remediate blighted conditions. Some of the provisions are narrowly tailored to municipal anti-blight efforts. For example, the law authorizes municipalities to (1) adopt and enforce blight ordinances (CGS 7-148(c)(7)(H)(xv), (2) fine owners for violating these ordinances, and (3) impose liens and levy special assessments to recover unpaid fines and remediation costs (CGS 7-148aa, 7-148ff, 49-73b, and 47a-53). In addition, CGS 7-148ii establishes a registration system for tracking the owners of certain foreclosed properties and allows municipalities to enforce against a registrant state and local property maintenance laws, including anti-blight ordinances.

Other statutes have broader applicability. The municipal powers statutes give municipalities the general authority to regulate and secure buildings, structures, and businesses to promote public health, safety, and welfare (CGS 7-148). Municipalities may use the zoning enforcement process to address blighted conditions that violate zoning regulations, such as unregistered motor vehicles stored on a property (CGS 8-1 et seq.). They may address blight through their local health

or building officials or fire marshal, in cases where the blighted conditions violate public health, building, or fire safety codes. And the law allows them to adopt ordinances governing the demolition of unsafe buildings.

The law also provides tools municipalities may use to indirectly address blight. Under CGS 7-600 et seq., a municipality may establish one or more neighborhood revitalization zones (NRZs) to revitalize neighborhoods where there are a significant number of deteriorated properties that are substantially out of compliance with health and safety codes. A municipality with an NRZ can petition the courts to place a deteriorated property in rent receivership so that the codes are met and to prevent further property deterioration. In addition, CGS 47a-14a et seq. and 47a-56a allow tenants and municipalities to petition the courts for the appointment of a rent receiver under certain circumstances. These include the existence of conditions dangerous to life, health, or safety; housing code violations; and a lack of water, electricity, heat, or sewerage facilities. If a receiver is appointed, he or she must correct the problems that led to the receivership. Tenants pay rent to the receiver rather than the owner.

Finally, municipalities with populations over 50,000 can use their federal Community Development Block Grants to rehabilitate or demolish unsafe buildings (CGS 8-169a et seq.). Smaller municipalities can compete for federal Small Cities program funds, which can be used for the same purposes. The Department of Economic and Community Development administers the latter program and chooses which projects receive funding.

Table 1: Authority to Prevent Blight and Rehabilitate Blighted Property

TITLE

DESCRIPTION

7-148

Municipal powers, generally

Among other things, authorizes municipalities to:

regulate housing, to ensure it is safe and sanitary

regulate the use of buildings to promote public health and safety and the general welfare

demolish unsafe buildings and structures

do all things necessary or desirable to secure and promote the public health

regulate and prohibit the carrying on of any trade, business, or profession in the municipality that is, or could become, harmful to public health

define and prohibit nuisances and abate them at the property owner's expense

7-148(c)(7)(H)(xv)

Blight regulations

Authorizes municipalities to (1) make and enforce regulations for preventing and remediating housing blight and (2) establish fines of between $10 and $100 for each day a violation continues (regulations must define “blight”)

Municipalities must give written notice of a violation to the property's owner and occupant and provide them with a reasonable opportunity to remediate the conditions before taking any enforcement action

Municipalities that issue citations for blight violations must also establish a citation hearing procedure for individuals to contest their liability for the fines

7-148aa

Liens for unpaid blight fines

Specifies that unpaid fines imposed under a blight ordinance constitute a lien on the property and take precedence over all other liens and encumbrances, except taxes, filed after July 1, 1997

7-148ff

Special assessment on blighted property

Authorizes municipalities to enact an ordinance imposing a special assessment on blighted housing to cover blight enforcement and remediation costs

Makes unpaid assessments a lien on the property

7-148ii

Registration and maintenance of foreclosed residential properties

Requires anyone who commences a foreclosure action on a residential property to register the property with the town clerk in the municipality where the property is located (information provided must include contact information for registrant and the person, local property maintenance company, or other entity serving as the contact with the municipality for any matters concerning the residential property)

Authorizes municipalities to cite registrants for state and local property maintenance laws, including blight ordinances

7-600 et seq.

NRZs

Allows municipalities to set up a process through which groups of residents, property owners, and businesses in distressed neighborhoods can develop strategic plans and work with governmental agencies to revitalize the neighborhood

Authorizes municipalities to take properties in a NRZ by eminent domain

Authorizes municipalities to ask the courts to establish rent receiverships for deteriorated properties within a NRZ, a tool that captures rent payments to pay for correcting code violations

8-1 et seq.

Zoning enforcement

Authorizes municipalities to regulate land use through zoning to, among other things, promote the safety, health, and welfare of their citizens

Allows a court to impose civil and criminal penalties for zoning violations

Allows towns to establish a citation system, by ordinance, to enforce zoning violations.  The ordinance must establish the types of violations for which citations may be issued and the amount of the fine, which can be no more than $150 per violation ( 8-12a)

8-169a et seq.

Community development pursuant to federal law

Authorizes municipalities to carry out activities permitted by Title I of the federal Housing and Community Development Act, including accepting federal community development block grant funds

Grants may be used to eliminate blight, prevent property deterioration, and rehabilitate neighborhoods, among other things

19a-200 et seq.

Local health directors

Empowers and requires municipal health directors to preserve the public health and prevent the spread of disease

Requires municipal health directors, or authorized agents or boards of health, to enforce or assist in enforcing the state Public Health Code and regulations adopted by the public health commissioner

Authorizes municipal health directors to levy fines and penalties for public health violations and grant and rescind license permits (such as for food service establishments or septic systems)

Allows municipalities to retain the power to adopt, by ordinance, sanitary rules and regulations, but they cannot be inconsistent with the Public Health Code

Authorizes municipalities to recover the cost of abating, remediating, or removing a nuisance from owner

29-251 et seq.

Local building officials

Requires each municipality to appoint a building official to administer and enforce the state building code

Building officials must require compliance with the code and all pertinent rules and regulations, including overseeing (1) building construction, alteration, repair, removal, and demolition and (2) building location, use, occupancy, and maintenance.

29-253

Demolition

Authorizes municipalities to adopt ordinances governing the demolition of buildings that are unsafe ( i.e., those that pose a fire hazard or otherwise endanger life or the public welfare)

29-291 et seq.

Local fire marshals

Requires local fire marshals to enforce, within their jurisdictions, violations of the state fire safety and prevention codes and related laws and regulations

47a-14a et seq.

47a-56a

Rent receivership

Authorizes court, upon finding certain conditions affecting health or safety exist in an apartment, to establish a rent receivership, a tool that captures rent payments to pay for correcting the conditions

47a-53

Liens for executing orders related to public nuisances

When a (1) building or structure is dangerous or detrimental to life or health or (2) tenement, lodging, or boarding house violates the law requiring houses to have adequate heat, authorizes local health boards or other enforcing agencies to declare them a public nuisance

Authorizes the board or enforcing agency to (1) order the nuisance removed or otherwise remedied, (2) execute the order and impose a penalty if the owner does not comply, (3) collect the expense of executing such orders, and (4) impose a lien on the property for unpaid expenses and penalties.

49-73b

Recovering expenses for inspecting, repairing, demolishing, or otherwise repairing property

Authorizes municipalities to impose a lien for the cost of inspecting, repairing, demolishing, maintaining, removing, or disposing of any property to remedy blight or make it safe

Municipality can impose a lien on the owner's interest in the property, or, in some cases, the insurance policy covering the property

REDEVELOPING BLIGHTED OR ABANDONED PROPERTIES

Table 2 summarizes state laws authorizing municipalities to redevelop blighted or abandoned properties.  Municipalities often use these strategies when an owner fails to remediate blighted property or a high concentration of blighted properties requires redevelopment of multiple tracts of land.

Under the Urban Homesteading Program, a municipality may create an urban homesteading agency to turn vacant and abandoned buildings into owner-occupied homes (CGS 8-169o et seq.).  These agencies may acquire such properties and transfer them to people willing to rehabilitate and reside in them.  Similarly, under the Rehabilitation of Abandoned Industrial and Commercial Buildings Program, municipalities

may acquire and transfer blighted commercial and industrial property to entities agreeing to rehabilitate it (CGS 8-290 et seq.).  Both statutes authorize municipalities to provide a variety of financial incentives to buyers.

Other provisions give municipalities the tools to help developers redevelop designated areas (e.g., the Redevelopment and Urban Renewal statutes, CGS 8-124 et seq. and 8-140 et seq.).  After designating redevelopment areas, municipalities prepare and implement plans for acquiring and improving land so that it can be developed.  Under these statutes, municipally-created implementing agencies are generally authorized to (1) acquire property by eminent domain, (2) issue bonds to carry out redevelopment plans, and (3) provide financial assistance to developers. 

Table 2: Authority to Redevelop Blighted or Abandoned Property

TITLE

DESCRIPTION

7-480 et seq.

Connecticut City and Town Development Act

Authorizes a municipality, upon finding conditions exist that make it unattractive to non-residential or residential occupancy, to issue bonds and make loans to developers to promote acquisition and development of property

8-124 et seq.

8-140 et seq.

Redevelopment and urban renewal

Authorizes municipalities to designate an area for redevelopment or urban renewal if it is deteriorated, deteriorating, substandard, or detrimental to the community's safety, health, morals, or welfare

Authorizes municipalities to sell, lease, transfer, or take by eminent domain real property

Authorizes municipalities to issue bonds and make loans to developers

8-169o et seq.

Urban homesteading

Authorizes municipalities to establish an urban homesteading agency to focus on turning vacant and abandoned buildings into owner-occupied homes

Allows urban homesteading agencies to condemn abandoned and blighted property and transfer it to qualified homesteaders, who may be eligible for financial assistance for purchasing and rehabilitation costs

Agencies can recommend to the municipality that the taxes on improvements be deferred

8-186 et seq.

Municipal development projects

Authorizes municipalities, to facilitate new commercial and industrial development, to (1) acquire (including by eminent domain), improve, and convey real property to private developers and (2) lend money (if a distressed municipality) to these developers

8-290 et seq.

Rehabilitation of Abandoned Industrial and Commercial Buildings

Authorizes municipal urban rehabilitation agencies to recommend that a municipality (1) acquire by purchase or condemnation, (2) demolish, or (3) foreclose for back taxes, blighted commercial or industrial property

Municipalities can transfer property, provide financial assistance to a rehabilitator, and defer property taxes on the subsequent improvements

32-224 et seq.

Economic development and manufacturing assistance

Authorizes municipalities, to maintain and develop the manufacturing sector,  to (1) acquire (including by eminent domain), improve, and convey real property to private developers and (2) lend money to these developers

FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO ADDRESS BLIGHT

The law authorizes various financial incentives that municipalities may use to address blight. As Table 3 shows, most of the incentives are property tax abatements or fixed, deferred, or reduced assessments to encourage property owners to rehabilitate or redevelop blighted properties. For example, CGS 12-121e allows municipalities that have enacted anti-blight ordinances to reduce the assessment on property that was rehabilitated under the ordinance. CGS 12-65c to 12-65f allow municipalities to designate a rehabilitation area and defer increased assessments on property located in it, based on a statutory schedule, if the property is being rehabilitated or constructed for certain uses. Similarly, CGS 12-65 allows municipalities to fix the property tax assessments for up to 15 years on newly constructed or rehabilitated multifamily housing in locally designated development areas.

The law also authorizes property tax abatements, along with other financial assistance, for property conveyed under two redevelopment programs (i.e., Urban Homesteading and Rehabilitation of Abandoned Industrial and Commercial Buildings). It allows municipalities to abate taxes for properties that redevelopment agencies acquire by eminent domain in designated redevelopment areas (CGS 8-129a). And it requires municipalities with designated housing development zones to fix the assessments on commercial and certain residential property in the zones, based on a statutory schedule (CGS 8-380).

Table 3: Financial Incentives to Address Blight

TITLE

DESCRIPTION

8-129a

Abatement for  properties in designated redevelopment areas

Allows municipalities to abate taxes for properties acquired by eminent domain in designated redevelopment areas

8-169u

Abatement for property conveyed in an urban homesteading program

Allows municipalities to provide financial assistance, including a property tax abatement, for property conveyed in an urban homesteading program

8-296

Abatement for property conveyed in urban rehabilitation program

Authorizes municipalities to provide financial assistance, including a property tax abatement, for rehabilitated commercial or industrial property conveyed in an urban rehabilitation program

8-380

Fixed assessments in housing development zones

Requires municipalities to fix the assessments on commercial and certain residential property in designated housing development zones, based on a statutory schedule

12-65

Fixed assessments on multifamily housing

Allows municipalities to fix the assessment for up to 15 years on newly constructed or rehabilitated multifamily housing in locally designated development areas

12-65c65f

Deferred property tax assessment increases in rehabilitation areas

Allows municipalities to designate a rehabilitation area and defer an increased property tax assessment on property located in it if the property is being rehabilitated or constructed for certain uses, based on a statutory schedule

12-81r

Property tax abatement, forgiveness, or fixed assessment program for contaminated property

Authorizes municipalities to abate or forgive property taxes on, and fix the assessment of, contaminated property slated for clean-up and redevelopment

12-121e

Reduced assessment for remediated property

Allows municipalities with anti-blight ordinances to reduce the property tax assessment on property that was rehabilitated under the ordinance

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