Council may increase vacant property fees

WARREN — City council will be looking at increasing the amount of fees financial institutions that own vacant properties must pay to register in the city during the period the structures are unoccupied.

Registration of vacant residential foreclosures will, if passed, increase from $100 to $200 and the fee to register vacant commercial properties will increase from $150 to $250 per year.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd ward, who, along with Councilman Larry Larson, D-1st ward, are sponsoring the legislation, said he is concerned when people take over foreclosed properties that require significant upgrades to make them habitable.

“There are properties, such as the former St. Joseph Hospital, that are nothing but fire traps,” Novak said.

The city collected an average of $13,000 per year in vacant property registration fees over the last two years, Auditor Vince Flask said.

Novak said the goal of the legislation is to encourage responsible property owners to maintain their properties and keep them secured. It also is designed to reimburse the city for its costs of keeping track of vacant properties and making sure the owners of the properties are taking care of them.

Larson said the ordinance changes are not aimed at the individual property owners or even the small business person, but at the financial institutions that don’t take care of their properties.

“We want to get the commercial institutions and big banks that are leaving us high and dry by not taking care of their properties by doing basic maintenance, such as keeping them secure and maintaining their yards, “ Larson said. “Sometimes an individual property owner may get caught up in this, but our intentions are to make sure we have an attractive community.”

Deputy Health Commissioner Bob Pinti said the increased fees are being proposed because the health department is inspecting more properties, more often.

The financial institutions that own the vacant properties, will, after they are inspected, have to provide a bond of up to $10,000 to the city to ensure the properties are maintained.

The city collected $590,000 in bonds from financial institutions in 2015 for 59 properties that were registered, Flask said. After the foreclosed homes are sold, the majority of the funds are returned to the institution. The city kept $18,290 of the $590,000.

In 2016, Warren collected $450,900 in bonds, of which all but $14,260 has been returned.

Novak said they intend to place the registration ordinance in first reading at tonight’s meeting,