How Hamilton is cracking down on nuisance properties

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How Hamilton is cracking down on nuisance properties

The city’s new Nuisance Appeals Board will begin considering in May whether to declare specific Hamilton properties as public nuisances — a step toward forcing rehabilitation or demolition of buildings.

Until now, that process has been handled by city council and the court system.

The new board, created by ordinance in February, will have its organizational meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers. Officials believe the new board, plus other recent changes that make it easier to serve notice to property owners with problem buildings, can significantly speed up the process of fixing or eliminating troublesome structures.

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City officials note the process of eliminating blight can be annoyingly slow for neighbors of such properties.

For example, Hamilton City Council declared the house at 121 Hensel Place a public nuisance on April 10, 2013. It wasn’t until January that the city completed its inspections of the vacant lot that was left after the building had been torn down.

Such lags have been created by the court process that followed council’s 2013 declaration, in which the city was required to prove its case, city Health Commissioner Kay Farrar and Community Development Director Eugene Scharf said.

Under the new process, city staff will have to prove the case to the Nuisance Appeals Board, which will have three options, Scharf said: it can agree with inspectors that the building is a nuisance and must be rehabbed or razed; it can decide it is not a public nuisance; or it can decide more information is needed and postpone a decision until a future meeting.

Scharf has said the change “eliminates the need to go to council and proceed with the lengthy period to take to court for approval.”

Property owners still will have the right appeal to Butler County Common Pleas Court if they disagree with the nuisance board’s rulings.

Debbie Ripperger, president of German Village Association Inc., says the Hensel Place home was a rare building in a historic district she would have liked to see demolished more quickly, because it was beyond salvation.

“I don’t like to see any houses taken down, I’m a preservationist,” she said. “The more that keep standing in our historic districts is, I think, better. It’s a problem where we have homeowners that can’t or do not take care of their property.”

“If they expedite them too fast, then we might be losing more historical homes,” she said. “We have some landlords who just don’t care.”

Frank Downie, a co-chairman of Lindenwald’s neighborhood association, PROTOCOL (People Reaching Out To Others: Celebrating Our Lindenwald), hopes the new board will be able to speed the process of forcing owners to rehabilitate their properties, because such eyesores reduce the value of nearby properties.

In Lindenwald, “I don’t think there are that many buildings we want to tear down, or anything like that,” he said. But forcing owners to more quickly fix storm gutters that are hanging down and other signs of blight “will be a big plus … I think there’s probably certain areas of Lindenwald that would probably benefit greatly.”

Downie said he sympathizes with city officials like Scharf and Farrar, who have met with his neighborhood group and have explained how out-of-town property owners can make the process of receiving official letters and other notifications more difficult. And he predicts many of those who lose their cases at the Nuisance Appeals Board still will appeal to common pleas court, further dragging out the process.

In another move the city intends to take in targeting problem properties, officials are formulating a chronic-nuisance ordinance that would spell out factors that could lead to problem properties being declared “chronic nuisances.”

Such factors likely will include significant numbers of public-safety responses to the same property, City Manager Joshua Smith has said.

“If it’s 80 calls a year because there are 80 domestic disputes, in my mind, that would fall under the chronic nuisance ordinance,” Smith said.

He has also noted the city would take care to exclude legitimate calls for service, such as certain numbers of trips because someone living at the property has a serious health condition.

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