Environment and Infrastructure

In Effort to Flight Blight, More Communities in West Virginia Pass Vacant Property Ordinances

Photo of Thorpe School in Thorpe, West Virginia, by Rana Xavier/FlickrCC

Photo of Thorpe School in Thorpe, West Virginia, by Rana Xavier/FlickrCC

The number of municipalities in West Virginia with vacant property ordinances has doubled since 2012.

In 2016 the town of Lumberport, in Harrison County, and the city of Huntington became the latest communities in West Virginia to enact a local Vacant Buildings Property Registration Ordinance, bringing the total number of such communities in the state to 22.

A Vacant Buildings Property Registration Ordinance (VRPO) requires the owners of vacant properties to list their property on a vacant buildings registry.

The property owner is then charged a fee, which increases annually the longer the property remains on vacant.

The amount of the fee and the timing of enforcement varies from city to city.

For example, in Charleston, which passed its VRPO in 2014, a property can unoccupied for at least six months before it is required to be registered as vacant. Failing or refusing to register a vacant property results in a fine of between $100 and $500. No fee is charged when the property is first registered. But if the property is still vacant after one year, a $250 fee is applied. That fee increases by $250 each year, to a maximum of $1,250 each year.

In Huntington, which passed its VRPO in January 2016, a building must be registered if it has been vacant for 30 days.

In Wheeling, which instituted a vacant property registry in 2009, the property owner is charged $200 after one year, increasing to $1,600 a year after five years, and increasing $300 every year after that.

Non-payment can result in liens on the property.

Similar ordinances have been proposed for Keyser, Marlinton and White Sulfur Springs, but not yet passed.

Photo of the Old Post Office in Iaeger, West Virginia, by Pete Zarria/FlickrCC

Photo of the Old Post Office in Iaeger, West Virginia, by Pete Zarria/FlickrCC

Vacant Property Ordinances provide motivation for property owners to make improvements to the property and find a productive use for it.

The Abandoned Properties Coalition, a collaboration of organizations in West Virginia working on abandoned and dilapidated property issues, has created a google map listing all municipalities in West Virginia with a VRPO.

The number of municipalities in West Virginia with vacant property ordinances has doubled since 2012, when there were 11. The following year, Nitro, Clarksburg, Dunbar, St. Albans and Weston all passed VRPOs, followed by Logan, Charleston and Parkersburg in 2014.

Mortgage services company Safeguard Properties maintains a database of municipalities across America with abandoned property registries in place.

Lumberport, the latest municipality to join the list, passed its vacant property ordinance in August, 2016. In 2005 Martinsburg was the first municipality in West Virginia to pass a vacant property ordinance.

The complete list of municipalities, and year the ordinance was passed:

  • 2005 Martinsburg
  • 2008 Bluefield
  • 2009 Wheeling, Moundsville
  • 2010 Charles Town, Lewisburg, Morgantown, Ridgeley
  • 2011 Elkins, Oak Hill
  • 2012 Wellsburg
  • 2013 Nitro, Clarksburg, Dunbar, St. Albans, Weston
  • 2014 Logan, Charleston, Parkersburg
  • 2015 Fairmont
  • 2016 Huntington, Lumberport

According to the Center for Community Progress, a national nonprofit dedicated to reducing the number of abandoned properties, the purposes of a vacant property registration ordinance are threefold:

  • To ensure that owners of vacant properties are known to the city and other interested parties and can be reached if necessary;
  • To ensure that owners of vacant properties are aware of the obligations of ownership under relevant codes and regulations; and
  • To ensure that owners meet minimum standards of maintenance of vacant properties.

According to Luke Elser, Project Manager for the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University, the increasing penalties also provide some motivation for the property owner to make improvements to the property and find a productive use for it, as well as helping the municipality cover the costs of dealing with the property.

City of Charleston officials have estimated vacant structures cost the city about $350,000 each year.

“Abandoned buildings registries can be a powerful tool for communities when implemented in a way that works for the individual municipality,” Elser says. “Vacant/abandoned buildings registries are one tool available for communities to get a handle on the scope of the problem properties in their towns. Community blight is an issue nearly every municipality in West Virginia is facing right now. The most successful communities tackling this issue have proactive elected officials working hand-in-hand with local citizens and property owners.”

“Registries help identify and track chronically vacant/abandoned buildings and can motivate property owners to act by either rehabilitating, deconstructing, demolishing, selling, or donating a property.”

Who To Talk To:

Abandoned Properties Coalition
Email: Coordinator Nicole Marrocco

Northern Brownfields Assistance Center
Email: BAD Buildings Project Manager Lucas Elser

 

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