Proposed Vacant Building Ordinance Draws Objections
May 24, 2018
Source: New Castle News
Local realtors, landlords and developers are concerned about an ordinance under consideration by New Castle City Council.
Among those speaking at council’s workshop session were representatives of Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity who said the ordinance, if adopted, would chase Habitat from city limits.
The ordinance, introduced on April 26, would require owners of vacant builders to post a $10,000 bond or cash for residential property covering costs to maintain or demolish their property. Owners of vacant commercial properties are assessed based on square footage with fees topping out at $65,000 on buildings in excess of 25,000 square feet.
City officials said the bond or cash would be used to correct code violations, abate unsafe conditions, fire suppression and remediation or demolition if the owner walks away
The bond requirement is part of an existing ordinance that requires property owners to register vacant structures within the city. City solicitor Jason Medure said suggested that interested residents call the city law department and a meeting be set up. He added that the ordinance has not yet been adopted.
“There is always room to improve on an ordinance,” he said.
After hearing from only a few of the 10 property owners and realtors speaking against the ordinance, councilman Tom Smith proposed a special council meeting to discuss the matter further. One was scheduled for 6 p.m. June 19.
“I’m concerned that this law will have a chilling affect on Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity and drive us out of the city,” said Habitat volunteer Carl Sacherich. Habitat is a nonprofit housing organization that builds and improves homes in partnership with individuals and families in need of a decent and affordable place to live.
Sacherich said Habitat just completed its 26th house and most are in New Castle.
“A number of your laws are well meaning but doing damage to honest people,” he said. asking, “Please find a solution. This would only hurt honest people.”
Mary Lou Scheidemantle, program director of Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity and a realtor with Howard Hanna Real Estate, said the organization has built new houses and rehabilitated others for 20 years. Program participants, she said, must volunteer hours of sweat equity to qualify, often resulting in houses sitting vacant until the necessary hours are earned on a second house.
“We realize there are many houses in the city in which house squatters live, where drugs are sold and fires happen because these homes are vacant for so long. We believe these ordinances are not aimed at us, but at those mostly-absentee investors who don’t maintain their properties, don’t care about the community and knew from the start that a percentage (of their properties)would be abandoned. We are a nonprofit working with people to lift them out of the very houses that have prompted this extreme solution,” she said.
Other speakers included:
- Jerry Morgan of North Jefferson Street who said if he is required to tie up funds to secure bonds for his vacant units, he will have limited funds to fix up or maintain other properties.
“You’re putting a burden on people who are doing things correctly. You’re making us pay for the sins of others,” he said.
- Joseph Betters, who gave his address as Long Avenue and said he has been buying property in New Castle for 15 years. “It’s hard to find a decent tenant in New Castle,” he said.
At one time, Betters said, he rented 64 units in Beaver County. “I’ve lost more in six months in New Castle than (I lost) in five years in Beaver County. We can’t get quality people in New Castle. My frustration is so great I sold nine properties in the last 10 days and I’m looking to liquidate more.”
- Bruce Waldman, president of the Western PA Landlords Association, who said his organization controls 1.200 units in New Castle.
He noted that “it’s hard to get parts” for houses in New Castle, built between 1900 and 1925, meaning that houses sit vacant while steps and windows are on order.
- Real Estate agent Joe Carofino called the ordinance a bad idea. “Why would you impose so much on vacant buildings?” he asked. “Has there been a study on the impact this will have on the city? How can the city benefit from this?” He noted house values have dropped by 4.4 percent in the last 12 months.
- Denise Walters, president of the Lawrence County Board of Realtors, said the organization opposes the ordinance “which will discourage people from buying homes in New Castle.”
- Attorney Philip Berezniak also asked that the proposed ordinance be amended.”In some estates, the property may be the only asset,” he pointed out.”If it sits empty for more than 45 days,the asset will be eaten up by the ordinance requirements..”