A bill to create a registry of abandoned properties in the city of Pittsburgh received preliminary approval in City Council Wednesday and is expected to receive final approval next week.
Councilman Daniel Lavelle introduced the legislation in July and said there are more than 400 foreclosed, bank-owned properties in the city.
“It’s really an attempt to make sure that properties that have been foreclosed on and are now abandoned by banks are maintained to a set of standards in accordance with the city code, so that they don’t become a drag on the neighborhood,” Lavelle said.
The councilman said that unmaintained vacant properties threaten the well-being of the public, and that the goal of the legislation is to promote neighborhood stability. He also said maintaining vacant properties is a better option than demolition because the idea is to eventually get residents back into the homes.
“If we do nothing, if the banks do nothing and just walk away from the property, then we know, ultimately, in three, four, five years the home will have to be torn down, and then we’ll have another vacancy within our community,” Lavelle said.
The legislation would create a registry of foreclosed and abandoned properties and would require regular inspections every 90 days.
“The minute any bank actually files for foreclosures this immediately kicks in, and they would immediately have to begin registering that property so we know it’s out there so that it is actually being maintained,” Lavelle said.
If an owner fails to register an abandoned property, they’ll face a fine of $100 a day. Fines will also be imposed on properties that fail to meet city code requirements.
An abandoned property is defined as any building that “provides a location for loitering, vagrancy … or criminal activity; has one or more broken windows or two or more windows boarded up for thirty days or more; has utilities disconnected or not in use; has taxes in arrears” or is otherwise not maintained or fit for occupancy.
Lavelle said unmaintained properties often become drug havens and hotspots for criminal activity. Additionally, they immediately bring down the property values of adjacent neighborhoods.
“Within my district we’ve been aggressively trying to … work on stabilization of properties, and getting them to a level whereby a local CDC (community development corporation) could then immediately begin working with potential property owners to actually begin occupying some of these,” Lavelle said.
If an owner does not register an abandoned property or pay the fees associated with the failure to maintain the property, “the city has recourse to come in and potentially manage and … attach liens to the property,” Lavelle said.
In the long term, Lavelle said he hopes the city steps up its efforts to market abandoned properties to potential homeowners.