Condemnation of private property is an unpleasant, though relatively infrequent, reality for local governments. In the past month, the City Council conducted two public hearings, condemned two properties, provided the required 90 days for remediation, and then ultimately had the uninhabitable structures demolished. Neighbors living near the condemned properties witnessed many years of violations and neglect that impacted their quality of life and their property values. Sadly, time and patience had run out – for all those involved.
Even so, as citizens living in a free society, we place great respect and value on preserving individual property rights. Condemning a property is not taken lightly and is one of the final steps in a process intended to encourage abatement modifications (also known simply as cleanup and repair) by the property owner rather than the City. In our community, we understand that many are faced with difficult economic times and other societal and personal challenges that often take precedence over the general upkeep of an existing property. It is not our mission to create hardship for residents. However, when living in a community – there are certain expectations set by code that are required. One’s personal property must meet minimum standard codes to ‘maintain health, safety and the welfare’ of citizens, as well as ‘protect neighbors against physical, visual and economic deterioration.’ (Int. Property Maintenance Code 101.3.1)
Enforcing City Code is not an easy, or inexpensive, task. This past summer, our City Inspection office sent out 13 building notices, 4 stop work orders, mowed 14 properties, hung 247 ‘mow tags,’ mailed 29 mow notices, gave 35 environmental and 14 tow notices. City inspectors spend considerable time face-to-face with residents discussing the issues, the requirements, and an acceptable course of action to meet City code. Each property is handled on a case-by-case basis utilizing the guidelines adopted by City Ordinance 1888. The process of bringing a property up to code is often long and fraught with challenges – from locating the property owner of an uninhabited structure to working within the health and time restraints of those property owners not meeting code.
Every community has areas in which new investment and pride are needed. Augusta’s challenges enforcing code and encouraging responsible property maintenance are not unique. One method our City uses to encourage property improvement and maintenance is the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan adopted in March 2003 to ‘promote the rehabilitation, conservation, and redevelopment of areas in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of the community.’ For economic purposes, the NRP was expanded in 2011 to include the entire City; however, the main intent remains intact.
At the end of the day, the City continues to work on code enforcement and currently our staff is compiling a list of possible suggestions and improvements to bring to the Council that could better support the code enforcement process. There are no easy solutions or shortcuts. As always, your input is welcomed.