Kingwood vacant building ordinance sees results

KINGWOOD — As Kingwood nears the first anniversary of having a vacant building ordinance, it is seeing results.

Councilman Mike Lipscomb spearheaded implementation of the law, which was passed Oct. 10, 2017.

In the first year, notices were sent to owners of properties not connected to water to request they register. The city sent out 43 notices. All but eight owners replied.

“A lot of the buildings that were registered are either no longer vacant or don’t exist,” Lipscomb said last week.

Two buildings on Main Street and one on Sisler were demolished after the notices were sent, he said. Other structures were found to be vacation homes and not really vacant.

The intent of registration is to “assist in ensuring that vacant buildings are monitored and kept weather-tight and secure from trespassers, will not impede private and/or public efforts to rehabilitate or maintain surrounding buildings and will not present otherwise a public hazard,” the ordinance says.

“It raises awareness of the fact that people are going to have to do something about [vacant structures],” Lipscomb said. Had something been done sooner, some structures might not have gotten to this point, he noted.

A fee is charged for registration after the first year. The fee is $400 for structures vacant for less than one year; $800 for properties vacant at least two years but less than three; $1,200 for properties vacant three to four years; $1,600 for properties vacant four to five years; and $3,200 for properties vacant at least five years, plus an additional $400 for each year after five years.

Owners can be fined $100 to $500 for each failure to pay the fee. The town can also seek a lien against properties to recover delinquent registration fees.

Lipscomb said it is hard to determine ownership of some buildings, which may be why some letters have not received responses. “We’re not really sure if we’re getting our papers to the right people. And there’s people who own buildings who deny they own them.”

Owners can request a one-time waiver of the fee for up to 90 days if they can prove demolition, rehabilitation or substantial repairs are being made to the structure.

The law calls for land at vacant structures to be kept mowed; the interior cleared except for construction supplies being used in the renovation; electrical service provided via temporary pole service; string lighting provided; unstable components removed; unstable or unsound accessory buildings razed or removed; windows and doors covered; loose trim, gutter or overhangs removed or reattached; and utilities connected.

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