Fighting blight takes a multi-pronged approach, consistent effort, and a long term commitment. In Pennsylvania there are many tools available in the fight against blight and the State legislature is constantly reviewing new ideas to continue to fight blight. In the front lines are property maintenance ordinances and code enforcement officers. Code officers should be aggressive in issuing violation notices and following up with timely enforcement if their notices go unheeded. Police officers, fire fighters and even public works officials all play a role in keeping communities safe and free from blight as well. Police officers can increase awareness and support through community policing initiatives. Fire departments can create community risk reduction plans focused on risks within their communities that contribute to blight. Pubic works departments can assist with maintaining vacant properties on the exterior to stop the progression in the "broken window" chain.
In the aftermath, when blight is already present, local governments can reach out to redevelopment authorities, regional land banks, private community development groups and other agencies such as Wells Fargo Bank who provides money to groups to redevelop properties. These groups can help with the money end by buying property and redeveloping the property quicker than a local government is able to under the law. Land banks in particular have a lot more freedom in funding sources and property uses. Communities can also create ordinances designed to keep these buildings safe, creating an abandoned and/or vacant structures ordinance requiring inspections of these structures to ensure they are maintained and safe could prevent disastrous outcomes.
If you are interested in learning more, or if your community is facing a blight problem contact us today for free help and information.
The first step in property maintenance enforcement is to have a valid and enforceable ordinance with an appeal process and specific penalties for violations. Many municipal governments have ordinances that deal with "quality of life" or a "nuisance" ordinance, these ordinances may be old and outdated, making them difficult to enforce. Ordinances must also be broad based to include things like tall grass and junk cars, but they should also include swimming pools and accessory structures like sheds. They must also provide the position of who may enforce the ordinance and what power and authority that individual should have in regards to property maintenance enforcement. In one model code, The International Property Maintenance Code, code officials are given broad enforcement powers to post and condemn unsafe structures and have the authority to order them to be demolished. Although the order is the easy part, actually demolishing a structure on a property is a bit more complicated, which I'll address in another post.
Take a look at your property maintenance ordinance, or if you don't have one, give us a call and we can review your goals and objectives for a property maintenance program and develop an ordinance for you. Consistency and persistence are the two keys to a great enforcement program that works, having a well written property maintenance ordinance is the first step in getting that process off the ground.