City of Columbus Vacant-Home Registry

In a recent article, the Columbus Dispatch discusses efforts in Columbus, OH to model vacant property registration legislation similar to that of Cincinnati, OH.

Vacant-home registry gets a look

Columbus officials are looking at a Cincinnati law that requires lenders to register vacant, foreclosed homes in several city neighborhoods.

Neighborhood groups pressed Cincinnati leaders to create the pilot program to prevent those areas from decaying further, and to hold banks accountable.

“  ‘Too big to fail’ should not mean ‘too big to cut the grass,’  ” said Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, one of the sponsors of the legislation, which passed in June.

In 2010, the Columbus City Council adopted an ordinance to put property owners in jail for as long as six months and fine them $1,000 if they don’t maintain vacant houses and commercial buildings. There are 6,111 in Columbus.

But that was a watered-down version of a proposal to create a vacant-property registry in Columbus. The idea was dropped after real-estate groups, apartment owners and others argued that only responsible owners would follow the rules.

Cincinnati officials are more confident.

“ The banks have been completely irresponsible in maintaining homes,” said Ken Smith, executive director of Price Hill Will, a community-development group in Cincinnati. “Hopefully, registration will further encourage them to do what is legally responsible.”

Cincinnati officials say they want to make sure vacant properties are properly maintained. Often, it’s hard to find the owners, especially if the property is in dispute among the lender, the owner and other parties.

“What we’ve found is that (from) the time a foreclosure is filed to the time it is transferred to a third party could be a number of months,” said Ed Cunningham, who manages Cincinnati’s property-maintenance division.

During that time, properties often become targets for vandals, squatters and others who strip out copper, Cunningham said.

He called the new law an “early-warning system” that will allow the city to track properties the minute they are foreclosed on.

The pilot program targets five neighborhoods: Westwood, West Price Hill, East Price Hill, College Hill and Madisonville. All have been hit hard by foreclosures. Three houses have been registered, Cunningham said.

It costs lenders $500 a year per registered house. They must maintain the properties and cannot put signs or placards that indicate a house is vacant. Broken windows and doors that are visible from the street cannot be boarded for longer than 10 days.

Failing to register properties can result in an initial fine of $500 and $1,000 fines for each subsequent day.

Vacant houses have cost Cincinnati $450,000 this year, including $293,000 to repair buildings.

Could such a program work in Columbus? City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer said he isn’t sure.

He said the only way it will succeed is if lenders believe the properties can be sold.

“If they don’t think they can sell it, they’re not going to foreclose,” Pfeiffer said.

That means the banks are not going to spend money to register the properties or fix them up, he said.

Columbus Councilman Zachary M. Klein said that, although he applauds Cincinnati’s move, such a law might not be the right fit here; however, he added, the option should be on the table.

“There’s no doubt the city is fed up with vacant and abandoned housing hurting neighborhoods,” he said.

Officials in other Ohio cities have taken notice. A group from Akron plans to visit Cincinnati soon to learn more about the program, Sittenfeld said.

To view the online article, please click here.

 

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Safeguard Properties is the largest privately held field services company in the country. Located in Cleveland, Ohio and founded in 1990 by Robert Klein, Safeguard has grown from a regional preservation company with a few employees and a handful of contractors performing services in the Midwest, to a national company with nearly 1,000 employees. Safeguard is supported by a nationwide network of subcontractors able to perform any requested superintendence, preservation, and maintenance functions, as well as numerous ancillary services in the U.S., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

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