WESTFIELD, NJ — Seeking to limit the potential for “neighborhood decline” and unattractive nuisance, the town is anticipated to establish a registry of vacant and abandoned properties.
The town council on Tuesday introduced a regulation that would require the owners of vacant or abandoned properties register those properties with the town clerk within 90 days of the property becoming vacant or within 30 days of purchasing the property. The regulation stipulates fines for failure to register and additional fines for failure to properly maintain a vacant property.
“It is a way to not only track vacant and abandoned properties, but also to encourage them to not be vacant or abandoned for so long,” said Town Attorney Tom Jardim, who drafted the regulation.
Council members approved introducing the measure 8-0. Councilman David Contract offered his support, citing a problem with vacant and abandoned properties in the Third Ward.
“It also depresses the look and the [property] values in the neighborhood when you’ve got grass that is 3 feet tall and houses that are falling apart,” Contract said.
Councilwoman Linda Habgood, who served as acting mayor at Tuesday’s meeting, noted the public health issue.
“There definitely have been complaints about houses that have been vacated for years at a time, and there are rodents,” Habgood said.
Having the vacant properties list would also allow the town to advise first responders if they are responding to a vacant home, officials said.
Property owners who do not register would be subject to fines of up to $1,250, the regulation states. Additional violations of the ordinance would be punishable by fines of between $500 and $2,500 for each day the violation persists, the proposed law states.
“It’s certainly consistent with what I’ve seen throughout the county and throughout the state,” Jardim said, when council members asked about the fines.
The regulation also allows the town to clean up a property and place a lien against the property to pay for the cost of the cleanup.
Contract said there are a handful of vacant properties in his ward. Officials declined to estimate how many vacant properties there are across the municipality.
A public hearing for the ordinance is anticipated on March 10, prior to its final approval.
Town Administrator Jim Gildea said the immediate intent in Westfield is to create the vacant property list.
In many cases, abandoned properties are referred to as “zombie homes.” The “zombie” nomenclature, however, is not being used by local officials in Westfield, Gildea said.
“We’re not using that term,” he said.
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Click here to read the full text of the proposed ordinance.