ABANDONMENT OF PROPERTY; MUNICIPAL ORDINANCES;
October 23, 2003
MUNICIPAL BLIGHT ORDINANCES
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for an analysis of municipal blight ordinances.
The law allows municipalities to adopt ordinances to combat housing blight and gives them related powers. This memo describes blight ordinances in Farmington, Middletown, and Stamford, each of which is available on-line. Each ordinance prohibits causing blight or allowing a blighted condition to continue. The ordinances are similar in defining blight broadly, for example when the property is a fire hazard or site of criminal activity, has overgrown grass, or is in a dilapidated condition. In Farmington and Middletown, the ordinances apply to buildings, while Stamford’s ordinance also applies to vacant lots. Middletown’s ordinance does not apply to owner occupied buildings with up to three units and certain other buildings.
Each ordinance requires the creation of a list of blighted properties. In Farmington and Middletown, the list is subject to approval of the local legislative body; in Stamford it is subject to approval by a committee of city officials. In Farmington and Stamford, listed properties are subject to a fine. In Middletown, properties on the list are subject to acquisition by
the city, if the Common Council determines that this is necessary and desirable. In Farmington, the assessor may reduce the assessment of any building after it has been rehabilitated to correct the blighting condition. The adjusted assessment must reflect the structure’s value before rehabilitation. It applies for up to three years.
OLR report 98-R-0268 compares anti-blight programs in 11 Hartford area municipalities, Bridgeport and New Haven. OLR report 2000-R-0567 describes alternative measures municipalities can use to combat blight.
Under CGS § 7-148, municipalities can adopt ordinance to prevent housing blight and impose fines of between $ 10 and $ 100 for each day that a violation continues. The ordinance can include regulations reducing assessments, so long as the regulations define housing blight. Municipalities also can adopt more generic ordinances under this section, such as public health and sanitary ordinances.
Under CGS § 7-148aa, any unpaid fine imposed by a municipality under a blight ordinance is a lien on the property against which the fine was imposed. Such liens take precedence over all other liens and other encumbrances, except taxes, filed after July 1, 1997.
Definition of Blight
The Farmington ordinance (Town Code, Chapter 88) was adopted in 1995. It provides that a vacant building (or a separate unit within a building) is considered blighted if it:
1. poses a serious threat to public health or safety;
2. meets one or more of several criteria, including overgrown grass or weeds or insect screens with tears or ragged edges;
3. is the site of illegal activities, as documented by police records;
is a fire hazard, as determined by the fire marshal; oris a factor creating a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of other premises within the surrounding area as documented by neighborhood complaints, police reports, or the cancellation of insurance on nearby properties.
List of Blighted Properties
The town manager must maintain a list of blighted properties, which is subject to annual review and approval by the Town Council. If the council does not act within 75 days of receiving the list, it is considered approved.
Once the list is approved, the town manager or his designee must regularly inspect the listed properties to document continuous blight. In addition, an individual, civic organization, or municipal agency can complain to the town manager with regard to the condition of a property. If he determines that the property is blighted, he can recommend that the council add the property to the list.
The manager or his designee can impose a penalty of up to $ 100 for each day that the building, structure, unit, or parcel of land on the list violates the ordinance. Each day is a separate offense.
The property owner is entitled to a hearing to contest the fine. If the fine is not paid within twelve months, it becomes a lien on the property. The town manager must notify the owner of this provision before the lien goes into effect and give the owner an opportunity to contest it.
Definition of Blight
Middletown adopted its anti-blight ordinance (Middletown General Code, Sec. 120-18 et seq. ) in 1989. The ordinance does not apply to owner-occupied residential buildings with up to three units, buildings that are being rented during the rent-up period, and buildings that are used for manufacturing or transportation.
Under the ordinance, a building that has been vacant for an extended period is considered blighted if it is:
not being maintained;
2. attracting illegal activity;
3. a fire hazard;
4. a factor that is seriously depreciating property values in the neighborhood; or
5. a factor creating a substantial and unreasonable interference with the lawful use and enjoyment of other space within the premises or neighborhood.
A residential building is considered vacant for an extended period if 20% of its units have not been rented for 60 days. The standard for a nonresidential building is having 20% of its usable floor space unoccupied for this period.
In addition, a property is considered blighted if it is dilapidated. In the case of a vacant building, this means that the property is in a physically deteriorating condition that is causing unsafe, unsanitary conditions and is nuisance to the public under applicable state and local laws. A partially occupied building is considered dilapidated if any dwelling unit does not meet Housing Code standards or if any non-residential space violates the blight standards.
List of Blighted Properties
Anyone affected by a property owner’s actions or inactions can complain to the chief building official. If the official believes that the owner has violated the ordinance, he must serve him with a notice of violation and an order to correct it within 30 days. The owner can appeal the order to a board consisting of the police and fire chiefs and the health and public works directors.
The chief building official must annually prepare a list of properties that he believes are blighted. He must submit the list to the Common Council, together with a report on (1) the basis for this determination, (2) the city’s efforts to eliminate the blighting condition, and (3) the circumstances on the premises and in the neighborhood that lead him to believe that the city has to acquire the property to eliminate the blight. The report must also state that the owner cannot or will not eliminate the blighted condition or has not responded to an order to do so within 30 days after the notice of violation.
The Common Council must hold a hearing on the report. The official’s report is prima facie evidence that the properties are blighted. A building owner or occupant can appear to show why the property should not be declared blighted or that the city should not acquire it. The Common Council must make its findings within 30 days of the completion of the hearing. If it determines that a property is blighted and its acquisition is needed and desirable, the mayor may acquire it within available funds. The mayor may also, with the council’s approval, rehabilitate the property using contractors or city staff or sell it to a purchaser who will promptly eliminate the blight.
Unlike Farmington and Stamford, the fact that a property is on Middletown’s list of blighted properties does not, in itself, make it subject to a fine. But the owner of any property that violates the city’s Housing Code, which has detailed maintenance requirements, is subject to a fine of $ 10 to $ 100. The owner is entitled to notice of the fine and opportunity for a hearing.
Stamford adopted its anti-blight ordinance (Sec. 146-500 et seq. , Stamford City Code) in April 2000 and appointed its anti-blight officer in November 2000. The officer works closely with the Health, Zoning, Building, Police and the Fire departments. When a departments determines that a property is "apparently blighted", they notify the officer.
Definition of Blight
Under the ordinance, a property is considered blighted if the city’s chief building official or health director determines that its condition threatens life or puts the health or safety of city residents at risk. It is also considered blighted if it:
1. is not being adequately maintained, e. g. , it has missing or boarded windows or doors;
2. has uncorrected building or health code violations;
3. has become a place where criminal activity has taken place as documented by the Police Department;
a fire hazard as determined by the fire marshal or as documented in Fire Department reports;
5. is a factor that is creating substantial risk of interference with the lawful use and enjoyment of other space within the building or other properties within the neighborhood, as documented by neighborhood complaints or cancellation of insurance policies;
6. is a factor that is seriously depreciating property values in the neighborhood.
7. contains unauthorized outside storage or accumulation of trash of any kind or parking for inoperable vehicles, boats, or other inoperable machinery on the property or the public right-of-way; or
8. has been vandalized, or otherwise damaged to the extent that it is seriously depreciating property values in the neighborhood
List of Blighted Properties
The ordinance required the anti-blight officer to develop an initial list of blighted properties in consultation with affected city departments. Once the officer completed the list, he had to transmit it to the building official. Within one month, the building official had to notify the officer of the properties on the list that were abandoned as defined by CGS § 8-169p(a) (the Urban Homestead Act, which allows municipalities to take blighted homes) and those, in his opinion, that could be rehabilitated.
Within one month of this notice, the anti-blight officer had to give the affected property owners a notice of their right to a hearing. At this hearing, owners were allowed to contest their properties’ inclusion on the list. Aggrieved owners were allowed to appeal the officer’s decision to the city’s Building Code Appeals Board.
At the end of the hearings, the officer had to present the proposed list to the Anti-Blight Committee for certification. The committee consists of the chairpersons of the police, fire, and health commissions; the chairperson of the Zoning Board; and the president of the Board of Representatives or their designees. The committee had to approve, disapprove, or modify the proposed list and publish the final list in a local newspaper.
The committee must meet at least quarterly to revise the list. If the committee ads a property to the list, the owner is entitled to the notice, hearing, and appeal provisions described above.
The officer can impose a fine of between $ 10 and $ 90 per day for each day that a property on the list continues to be blighted. The officer must give the owner notice of the fine, and he has 15 days to correct the violation. The fines must go into a separate fund to be used for anti-blight activities.
Unpaid fines are subject to a lien on the property. However, the anti-blight officer, with the written approval of the chairperson of the Anti-Blight Committee, may waive and release the fines penalties and liens in if the city acquires the property or sells it to a buyer who has the financial ability and the intention to immediately rehabilitate the property. The officer may also hold all fines and liens in abeyance until all rehabilitation is completed.
In addition, the anti-blight officer may take the steps needed to acquire blighted properties that the building official has been certified as abandoned under CGS § 8-169(o), et seq.