City proposal may remedy costs of abandoned parcels
By Brent Curtis
Herald Staff | August 07,2008
Cassandra Hotaling / Rutland Herald
According to city officials, this house on Ronaldo Court is infested with mold. An environmental assessment agency will soon give the city a report on options for the property.
Rutland City is looking at ways to get money out of abandoned private properties that are costing taxpayers to maintain.
In the midst of a declining housing market that's piling up with foreclosed properties on a national scale, Rutland's municipality is already dealing with the after-effects of landlords who cut and run from their losses, Mayor Christopher Louras said.
On Monday, Louras asked the aldermen to begin work on an ordinance that would help the city get paid for being the de facto landlord for abandoned properties.
He told the aldermen that the city has incurred considerable costs dealing with everything from mold and mosquito-related public health hazards to situations involving tenants left in buildings where water and electrical utilities have been stopped.
On Wednesday, city building inspector James Simonds said so much of his time has been spent dealing with abandoned properties as of late that he believes his office is "becoming a property management company."
"It seems like that's all we've been doing lately," he said.
Among the low points that Simonds' office has had to deal with is a house on Ronaldo Court that's so infested with mold that the mayor told the board Monday the city may need to "raze" it to cleanse it.
Simonds said an environmental assessment agency would soon give a report on the city's options.
On Cherry Street, another property owner walked away without draining their pool, which quickly became an algae-covered breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Five other city apartment buildings owned by a California owner were left without trash removal services and other basic needs that the city has had to supply, Simonds said.
"As more and more buildings are foreclosed on, this is only going to get worse," Simonds said.
In actuality, it might be better if the buildings Simonds was talking about had been foreclosed on.
The problem, according to city Assessor Barry Keefe, a former banker, is that the banks haven't taken the legal foreclosure step on the properties, leaving the city with no one to call if health and safety situations exist on the properties.
With no way to ignore the property issues and no one to bill for the expenses, Louras told the aldermen he hopes they will pass an ordinance similar to one in Burlington that converts that municipality's property management expenses into tax liens.
Rutland already has the option of attaching so-called mechanical liens to properties. But payments on those liens are made after debts to primary creditors are paid. Often, there is little or no money left to pay secondary creditors.
But a tax lien, which would essentially convert the property expenses into a "tax," would put the city's claim at the front of the line of creditors.
Louras also cautioned the board that he didn't want to impose blanket fines on every vacant property in the city since not every vacant property costs the city money.
"To me, that's not where I want to go," he said.
The aldermen sent the issue to their Charter and Ordinance Committee for further review.
Contact Brent Curtis at email@example.com.