Hamilton cracking down on blighted, nuisance properties

Bud Scharf, the city’s community development director, said neighbors should see improvements in three ways:

  • Until now, the city has had to use the U.S. Postal service’s certified mail to serve notice to property owners that their land or buildings have violations that need to be fixed. The ordinance lets the city use commercial carriers, such as FedEx or UPS, which offer faster service and can provide quicker confirmation to the city that the notice letters have been received.

“It may take as many as 21 days for certified mail to come back undeliverable and to allow us to proceed to the next step,” Scharf said. “This will speed the time frame for notices and allows if necessary to proceed with ‘next steps’ more quickly.”

  • The legislation created a Nuisance Appeals Board for official nuisance declarations.

“This eliminates the need to go to (city) council and proceed with the lengthy period to take to court for approval,” Scharf said.

Under the process, property owners will appear before the Nuisance Appeals Board, which will determine whether the situation should be declared a public nuisance, and whether the property should be cleared or rehabbed. If property owners disagree with the board’s rulings, they can appeal to the court system.

Scharf said the Nuisance Appeals Board process “significantly reduces the time period from nuisance declaration to a rehab or demo.”

  • The ordinance also reduced some time frames for compliance — allowing the city to move more quickly on some nuisances, but not all.

City Manager Joshua Smith summarized the goal behind the legislation: “One thing that we’ve heard clearly from people in our neighborhoods is, ‘Why can a house, a nuisance property, remain in nuisance status for so long?’ That was the real driver behind the ordinance.”

Even with this week’s legislation, city officials have their sights on other legislation, which they hope to approve later this year, that they believe can be even more effective.

Smith said that legislation will target chronic nuisance properties, which would focus on places that create repeated problems for the community, such as those that generate repeated needs to visit by police, fire or health officials.

“We have not defined what would trigger the chronic nuisance yet, but certainly, public-safety calls would be one,” Smith said. “The one thing we’re trying to be incredibly careful with is some people have calls because they have legitimate medical issues, we understand that.”

“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. “If it is someone is diabetic and they have four-to-six calls a year to the medics, then we certainly want to exclude that because in my mind that’s a very legitimate reason to be calling.”

“We’re really trying to focus on properties where it’s really eating into taxpayer resources,” Smith said.

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