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May 21, 2013

City takes aim at abandoned homes

Proposal would fund registry with $250 fee; impose $300-a-week fine on scofflaws

HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini is proposing new rules to help inspectors identify and spruce up abandoned homes, including hefty fines against banks and other run-away owners who fail to maintain their property.

The ordinance would require owners of abandoned buildings to pay $250 to register them with the city and allow the city to fine those who don’t comply up to $300 a week.

Owners, usually a bank or similar entity that holds a mortgage on the property, would also be required to provide contact information for a maintenance person or company in charge of maintaining the property. Failing to do so would also trigger fines.

Under the ordinance, homes would be considered legally abandoned once they are vacant for 90 days and the owner has no plans to return, Fiorentini said.

Abandoned and dilapidated buildings are considered a leading cause of urban blight that can cause aesthetics and property values in infected neighborhoods to plummet.

The number of abandoned homes in the city has soared during the long real estate and economic slump that began several years ago, the mayor said. Recent estimates have suggested there are anywhere from 50 to 100 in the city, but Fiorentini said there could be many more.

“One of the reasons for the registry is to get a better estimate of how many there are,” he said.

Fiorentini said the $250 registration fee would be used to pay for inspectors to watch over and find abandoned buildings, and bring them into compliance with the ordinance. A similar program in Lowell has generated $700,000 in fees for its Inspectional Services Department, the mayor said.

Fiorentini said complaints from residents brought the issue to a head.

”Protecting residents, their homes and our neighborhoods is a priority of my administration,” he said. “One vacant and rundown home can ruin a neighborhood. Renovating vacant properties and making them part of a thriving neighborhood is my goal.”

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