Vacant Building Law Begins To Take Affect

This house on Hackney Street is one of two properties that have been notified it is in violation of the city’s new vacant building ordinance.
By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Managing Editor

Two months since the passage of a new city ordinance, the city of St. Marys has begun its process of addressing vacant buildings within city limits. 

Ordinance 2019-27, the registration of vacant buildings, was passed Nov. 11 and establishes a program to identify, register and inspect vacant buildings within the city of St. Marys that may present a fire hazard, temporary occupancy for transients, detract from private or public efforts to rehabilitate or maintain surrounding buildings and provide a hazard to the health, safety and welfare of the public.

What is deemed as a vacant building is no evidence of occupation by an owner, lessees or any other person in lawful possession for more than 90 days.

Director of Public Service and Safety Greg Foxhoven added that St. Marys is no different than any other community, regardless of size, when it comes to municipalities having to deal with vacant buildings or homes. The ordinance originated from the Sandusky ordinance passed in 2012 that took care of that city’s vacant buildings issues from 150 buildings down to 15 by 2016. Foxhoven said he was not sure how many vacant buildings St. Marys has.

The director said since it’s new, the city wants to ease into the ordinance, but two houses are in violation — one each on Hackney and Lynn streets.

St. Marys Fire Chief Doug Ayers said notices have been served to the owners of both houses and the process has already begun. 

Foxhoven and Ayers both said the violations have been complaint-driven. Complaints can be sent to the code enforcement officer for the St. Marys Police Department, Ayers or Foxhoven.

Ayers said under the ordinance, there are 13 indicators that are looked at on whether or not to make it a vacant building. Residential buildings need to meet five indicators to be deemed vacant and commercial/industrial need to meet three. Both residential buildings have met seven of the 13 indicators.

Some of those indicators on Lynn Street include: No or significantly below standard utility usage, evidence of infestation by rodents, evidence of broken or boarded up windows and absence of furnishings.

“Most of those indicators you can see from the outside,” Foxhoven said. “We can also check the utility office and see that utilities have been off for months.”

“And that is a part of the process,” Ayers added. “I may contact the utility office, I might contact the county tax department and see if they are delinquent on their taxes — that’s one of the indicators of their delinquent own taxes.

The owners of the properties are given 30 days from the time of the notice to either register their structure or get the violations corrected to where it doesn’t meet a vacant building.

If no action is taken after 30 days, the ordinance gives the city the ability to go in and do what is necessary to secure the structure to avoid vagrancy, keep animals from getting in and to help keep that structure from becoming more dilapidated. Any work done by the city is added on to owner’s taxes.

Additional information about the ordinance can be found on the city’s website at CityOfStmarys.net/Departments/Fire/Vacant-Buildings-Registration-Program, in basic language with the fee amounts listed for both residential and commercial/industrial buildings, frequently asked questions and a link to a registration form if they have a building that may violate the ordinance.

“Folks can go there and figure out if this going to apply to them,” Foxhoven said. “We encourage people, if they don’t like to read ordinances, is to read this. It will tell people why we are doing this.”

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