Owners Must Register Vacant Buildings or Face Fines in New Brunswick

Stock photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Abandoned, decrepit buildings in the city are about to cost their owners more money.

Effective June 1, people who own vacant properties—any building that’s not legally occupied or on the market, and can’t be without repairs—must register the sites with New Brunswick. Along with their contact information and those of any maintenance worker, the registration form mandates a $1,000 fee, which will rise if the property remains abandoned.

“It’s essentially to go after a lot of the foreclosed properties that are bank-owned and don’t even have absentee landlords,” Glenn Patterson, the city’s planning and development director, said this month. “This is a way to try to get those properties maintained so they don’t deteriorate the rest of the neighborhood and harm the other people who are living in that neighborhood.”

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The New Brunswick City Council adopted the ordinance earlier this month, with the support of a handful of statewide and city-based organizations. It’s the first of its kind in the Hub City, but a dozen or so other New Jersey municipalities have enshrined similar laws.

The act complements an ordinance adopted in February 2016 by the council, which gave the city the right to repossess abandoned downtrodden properties abandoned by their owners. That measure has reportedly yielded no results.

But the most recent move is set to give the city teeth. It calls for the hiring of a municipal officer to manage the registration list and oversee related activities and violations—a position at least one activist said is necessary.

City Attorney T.K. Shamy said during the meeting that several people were interviewed earlier this month for the job. A city spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request from TAPinto New Brunswick on the progress of the search.

The new ordinance will require owners or their designees to register buildings within 60 days of becoming vacant, 30 days after buying the property or 10 days of receiving notice from the city, according to the document.

Any building left empty prior to June must be registered by June 30, 2017.

The initial registration fee runs $1,000, according to the ordinance. The price jumps to $2,000 for the second year and $3,000 for every subsequent year.

“Some ordinances adopted in other municipalities are much higher with respect to the fees,” Shamy said. “Our proposed ordinance is probably in the middle of the road.”

At least 80 percent of the money made through this ordinance must be used to fight the impacts of abandoned properties, according to the ordinance.

Owners must also take out liability insurance policies for properties on the list. Buildings with fewer than four residential units must be insured at a minimum of $300,000. All others must be covered for at least $1 million, according to the ordinance.

After they register their properties, an owner must allow access to New Brunswick workers for inspections. What’s more, they must secure the building, clean the grounds and post a sign with information that neighbors may call to lodge complaints.

Out-of-state banks must also appoint a New Jersey resident to take care of vacant properties in the city, according to the ordinance.

If an owner plans to fix the building within the year following the registration, that person can file a “detailed statement” on the plans and potentially dodge paying the fee. But if the property remains vacant, the owner will need to pay up.

A designated redeveloper may apply for a fee exemption if plans for the property meet the city’s goals and regulations, but an obstacle, such as financing or market conditions, has slowed development, according to the ordinance.

Violations for various parts of the ordinance range from $500 to $2,500 per day.

Several people praised the move during the council meeting, saying it will make New Brunswick a better place to live while tackling lingering issues from the foreclosure crisis.

“These ordinances really do benefit the community,” said Jeff Crum, who spoke on behalf of the nonprofit housing group New Jersey Community Capital but also heads the city Planning Board.

Teresa Vivar, a local community and housing activist, said she has long anticipated the hiring of the municipal officer, who she hopes will help her boost New Brunswick’s housing stock.

As of early this month, New Brunswick officials didn’t know exactly how many houses would qualify for the registration list. But Shamy said he expects dozens to fit the bill.

The city spends a good deal of money on police and fire calls and code inspections at abandoned properties, according to the ordinance. The new regulations are meant, in part, to cut down on that burden.

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