Warren bill targets vacant properties

WARREN – City Council is developing legislation to require owners of vacant properties being foreclosed on to obtain a $10,000 bond. That way, if the city has to do anything to the property – from cutting grass to boarding it up to demolitions – it’s covered with money from the bond.

The idea behind the vacant property registry is to make sure the owners of vacant properties secure all the doors and windows, keep grasses cut, clear trash and debris, and make sure the addresses are clearly visible, according to council.

Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, who is pushing the legislation, says the registry and the bond are primarily geared toward those properties in the foreclosure process, not individual property owners.

Annual registration fees are proposed to be $100 for each residential structure and $250 for commercial or industrial structures. However, council members already are looking at possibly waiving the registration fee on owners of properties that do not have complaints filed against them.

“However, once there are complaints the property owners will have to not only pay the registration fee but also whatever fines are levied against them,” Colbert, chairman of the council’s legislative committee, said.

“The ultimate goal is for the property owners to take care of their properties,” he said.

Youngstown implemented similar legislation earlier this year.

Jason Burns, who works for Warren’s law department, said at least two local banks and several national banks have paid registration fees and posted $10,000 bonds on their vacant properties in Youngstown.

Law Director Greg Hicks emphasized that Youngstown so far has been successful because the city has dedicated someone to primarily work on identifying the ownership of properties and contacting the owners.

“They have been vigilant,” Hicks said. “Where I see a challenge is who will be tasked to do this and, at least initially, will they be given the time to do this properly?”

Canton passed a similar law but so far has not done the enforcement. “It does not have a person dedicated to do the job,” Hicks said.

The city’s health department is expected to do the inspections of the properties and handle the enforcement issues.

Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said the property owners can be identified through the county’s clerk of courts office.

“Banks and mortgage companies starting the foreclosure will file a complaint against the property owners at the clerks office,” he said. “That information can be sent to us from there.”

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, expressed support for the legislation, saying it is time for banks to be held responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of vacant properties they own.

Colbert said this proposed legislation is one tool not only to save individual homes but entire neighborhoods.

He expects to introduce the proposed legislation to the entire council at its next meeting.