Council to drop vacant property registration

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

PORTERDALE — The City Council told landlords Thursday night that it would give up on a proposed ordinance that would have required property owners to register vacant properties.

The council had already approved the first and second readings of the ordinance at a previous meeting. The ordinance was designed to address the number of blighted, vacant properties in Porterdale and provide a plan for making improvements to the properties. About 10 landlords were present at the council's work session Thursday night to protest the ordinance, which they viewed as punitive and unnecessary.

Landlord Jack Kottl asked council members why they were looking at enacting a new ordinance when the city already has laws on the books to address blighted properties. "You have laws on the books ... go after them," he said of landlords who don't maintain their properties.

Councilmembers acknowledged that the landlords present Thursday night were not part of the problem. Mayor Bobby Hamby said that the problem of unresponsive landlords has been exacerbated recently by the number of properties that have gone into foreclosure. That has made it difficult for the city to find the properties' owners, he said.

Councilwoman Linda Finger first suggested that the council drop the ordinance and was supported by Councilman Mike Harper. Harper pointed out that properties owned by the city itself aren't in the best shape. Harper said that the police station/post office building and city hall both have decayed wood, while the gym doesn't have a roof. "The only decent building we have is the depot, and it's not finished," he said.

Finger said she would like to see the city allow Police Chief Geoff Jacobs to follow through on his code enforcement program before any steps are taken toward enacting an ordinance addressing vacant buildings.

The Police Department has been tasked with enforcing the city's housing code after the part-time code enforcement officer position was eliminated in the 2011 budget. Jacobs is also soliciting charitable donations and help from nonprofit groups to help residents who can't afford to improve their properties.

Hamby summed up the council discussion, saying the council would take no action on the ordinance Thursday night.

"At the next council meeting I guess we'll take action to put it to rest — that seems to be the consensus," he said.

Under the ordinance, a housing official appointed by the city would have had the authority to identify properties as vacant and provide written notice to the property owner. The owner would then be required to register the building or structure with the housing official. The registration would have to be renewed every six months that the building remained vacant. The ordinance also would have authorized the city manager to establish a fee schedule to cover the costs of providing the notice and monitoring the registration information. Fines would have been levied against owners who did not respond to the notice of vacant properties.

The ordinance also included requirements for property owners to provide a plan for improving the property and a requirement that owners get a permit before boarding up a property.