EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

June 5, 2013

Council OKs abandoned homes registry, new fines

Hart: Program will make the city money, but won't solve problem

HAVERHILL — Dozens and potentially hundreds of owners who have abandoned their homes will be getting letters and bills from the city within the next few weeks.

City Council at last night’s meeting approved Mayor James Fiorentini’s proposal requiring absentee owners — often a bank or similar entity that holds a mortgage on the property — to pay $250 to register their building with the city. The owners are also now subject to fines of up $300 per week if they don’t register, or if they fail to provide basic maintenance on their property once it is uninhabited.

The council, which rejected a similar measure from the mayor in 2009 and had raised several concerns about the proposal recently, passed the ordinance unanimously.

Even Councilor Michael Hart, a critic of the proposal, voted for it. But only after he raised several objections.

Hart said the ordinance will generate some much-needed money for the Inspectional Services Department, but won’t solve the city’s abandoned homes problem.

“People who think this is going to do something about abandoned and distressed homes in their neighborhood are going to be disappointed,” said Hart, a lawyer and former city solicitor. “What might happen is that the owner of the building might give the city some registration money and maybe pay the fines, but that’s about it. This (ordinance) is legally flawed, not enforceable and based on false assumptions.”

Hart said he voted for the ordinance anyway it because the city’s Inspectional Services Department desperately needs revenue and another inspector. In a compromise that led to the council’s support, Fiorentini agreed that all revenue and fines from the program will go into a special fund to pay for an additional city inspector.

Previously, revenue from the program was to go into the city’s general fund, which is under the mayor’s control.

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