EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 12, 2013

Owners get one last chance to save buildings

Council decides Dec. 10 on razing city's 5 most deteriorated homes

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The owners of five neglected and deteriorated buildings have one last chance to save their property from the city’s demolition list.

The City Council has set Dec. 10 as the final date for the owners to submit plans to make repairs or sell the buildings.

Mayor James Fiorentini has requested the council’s permission to demolish the buildings, saying they are the worst abandoned buildings in the city and are hurting property values in neighborhoods.

Council approval of demolition is required under state law, the mayor said, and would trigger a 60-day deadline for the owners to sell their properties, begin maintaining them or risk seeing them knocked down.

At last night’s meeting, councilors scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 10 to hear from the owners of the five buildings or anyone else who wants to heard before they vote on each property.

The properties are: 18 Warren St., 5 Cypress St., 2 Tyler Ave., 36 School St. and 16 Margerie St.

Councilor Thomas Sullivan, who is also a lawyer, said an owner of one of the properties contacted his law office yesterday to ask if there is any way to get his property off the demolition list. He said the man who contacted him is disabled and has a disabled wife.

“He said he has offer to buy his property from Habitat for Humanity and may sell soon,” Sullivan said, noting that the Habitat for Humanities charity often buys dilapidated buildings, rehabilitates them and then rents them to poor people.

Fiorentini said another owner visited his office yesterday with a similar story.

“The last thing we want to do is knock down someone’s home,” the mayor said. “But we’ve heard these promises and excuses for a long time. It’s time for them to do something.”

Fiorentini suggested that at the public hearing councilors insist on seeing proof that an owner intends to begin maintaining or sell their building before removing any properties from the demolition list. Such proof, he said, could be in the form of a purchase-and-sale agreement or similar document.

“These buildings aren’t going to be razed Dec. 11 (the day after the hearing),” Council President Robert Scatamacchia said. “There will be opportunities to get off the list.”

The mayor’s proposal to demolish the buildings is part of the city’s new and aggressive effort to clean up deteriorated properties in the city. Fiorentini has estimated there at least 100 such properties in the city. These would be the first buildings demolished under the mayor’s administration that weren’t damaged by fire, he said.

“The best-case scenario is that the owners sell or get a loan and fix up their property,” Fiorentini said in a prior interview. “But we can’t leave these eyesores in our neighborhoods indefinitely.”

Earlier this year, City Council passed an ordinance requiring absentee owners — often a bank or similar entity that holds a mortgage on the property — to pay $250 to register their buildings with the city. The owners are subject to fines of up $300 per week if they don’t register or if they fail to provide basic maintenance on a property once it is uninhabited.

The city has also been going to court to ask judges to appoint receivers to take over and repair some abandoned buildings. Some buildings, such as the ones the mayor proposes to knock down, aren’t good candidates for that program, however, because they require too much work, he said.

“These buildings are so far gone the receivers don’t want them,” Fiorentini said of the five on his demolition list.

If it goes that far, the city would pay to demolish the buildings and then attach a lien on the properties to recoup the cost, the mayor said. The city would get the money back when the property is eventually sold or the city can go to court to seize the property and sell it, the mayor said.

Several residents have attended recent council meeting to urge councilors to take a harder stance with absentee property owners who don’t take care of their buildings.