Mayor Chris Beutler said passage of a new ordinance to address vacant, neglected residential buildings will continue the City’s work to improve all neighborhoods. The proposed ordinance adds a registration requirement, fees and penalties to the process for dealing with problem properties.
This new ordinance will have its first reading at the City Council meeting Monday, July 14, and the public hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 21. The Mayor said it builds on successful ordinances previously adopted to address problem properties. Since 2009, the City has increased the fines for offenses, adopted the International Property Maintenance Code and created a process of performance-based inspections.
“Working with neighborhood associations, homeowners, Realtors and landlords, we have created new tools that protect property values and maintain our high quality of life,” Beutler said. “The new processes have led to a vast majority of problem properties being repaired and maintained. But we have identified a need for stronger enforcement language to deal with a small pool of properties that continues to have a substantial negative impact on surrounding residents. These properties fail multiple inspections, have substantial deterioration, are repeatedly unsecured, are boarded up for over 90 days or are uninhabitable for more than two years.”
Jon Carlson, manager of the City’s Stronger, Safer Neighborhoods Association, said the number of properties in that category fluctuates from 50 to 100, and many have been sent to the Problem Resolution Team (PRT) multiple times. The PRT is a group of City and County agencies that deal with properties that have violations across multiple departments.
“As Co-Chair of the PRT, I’ve seen that the best solution for vacant neglected properties is often demolition or a change of ownership,” said City Council member Doug Emery. “This new ordinance can help get these properties into the hands of new owners who will improve and maintain them or create a lot for a new home.”
“A single vacant neglected property can really bring down an entire block by decreasing safety and property values,” said Shawn Ryba with NeighborWorks Lincoln. “It’s not just the next door neighbors who suffer. Realtors working to sell a home or landlords trying to rent an apartment also find their businesses severely impacted.”
Ryba said addressing problem properties has been a top priority of the Lincoln Policy Network (LPN), a group of neighborhood residents, business and residential property owners, Realtors and non-profits. The LPN was formed to identify community issues, formulate solutions and implement plans to change City, County or State policies through new legislation or the modification of existing laws or ordinances.
The proposed ordinance includes these provisions:
• The City Building and Safety Department can declare a vacant residential building as neglected when it crosses a series of violation thresholds, and the owner fails to respond.
• Once the property is declared neglected, the owner must register the building and pay a $500 registration fee for each 90-day period the property remains neglected. Registration requires the listing of a registered agent and a timeline for improving, selling or demolishing the building.
• Owners who fail to register face a $500 civil penalty. The penalty is imposed each 90-day period that the property remains unregistered or the fees unpaid.
• If an owner fails to register, the City can register the building and place a lien on the property for the cost of registration fees and civil penalties.
• If the liens build up and are unpaid without improvements to the property, the City could foreclose against the property and sell the property to a new owner who could demolish or repair the building.
“We will continue to work toward finding solutions that put the financial burden on those creating the problem,” Beutler concluded. “Our message is clear: repair or remove these neglected buildings. If you cannot, then sell them so the private market can get them into the hands of owners who will.”