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New Ordinance Requires Registration of Abandoned and Vacant Properties and the Payment of Fees and Penalties

on Wednesday, 25 November 2015 in Dirt Alert: David C. Levy, Editor

A new Omaha ordinance requires property owners and lienholders to register properties that are vacant, exhibit exterior evidence of vacancy, and have title or building code issues. The Omaha City Council passed the Vacant and Abandoned Property Ordinance (the “Ordinance”) on November 17, 2015. The Ordinance becomes effective on December 2, 2015. The intent is to protect neighborhoods from blight.

Under the Ordinance, abandoned structures or neglected buildings constitute a public nuisance, and the Superintendent (the “Building Official”) of the Permits and Inspection Division (the “Division”) may enforce the Ordinance by making inspections to determine the condition of property within the city or the three-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction of the city.

The responsible party for a property subject to the Ordinance must, after written notice from the Division, register the property with the Division within thirty days of the notice. A “responsible party” is the owner of the property, the owner or holder of a mortgage or similar encumbrance on the property (the “mortgagee”), or both the owner and the mortgagee. The Ordinance does not require registration if the responsible party completes the necessary maintenance and security measures within the thirty-day notice period.

A registration must include: a description of the property; the contact information of all responsible parties, all lienholders, and the property manager; the time the structure will remain unoccupied; and a plan and timetable to bring the structure into compliance or for demolition and removal. The Building Official may deny a registration if: the information is incomplete or inaccurate; the timetable is too long; the plan does not address violations; or more than two years have passed since the owner or property manager first received the notice to register.

Maintenance includes: keeping the property free of undesirable vegetation, trash, building materials, papers, discarded personal items, and graffiti; maintaining landscaping; glass replacement and building repair; and keeping pools and spas free of pollutants and debris. A responsible party must also secure properties so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.

A property is exempt from registration if it (1) is not the subject of a foreclosure, is listed in the multiple listing service or otherwise shows evidence of marketing for sale, and is being outwardly maintained, or (2) is under construction, and the contractor is covered by a valid building permit. The Omaha Municipal Land Bank and similar non-profit organizations are exempt from the registration and fee requirements for one year after acquiring property.

The registration fee is $500 per property, and each registration expires after ninety days. A new fee of $500 is due and payable for each ninety-day period. The fee is not required for registration of a vacant parcel because vacant land does not constitute the same nuisance as abandoned and neglected buildings. There is a civil penalty of $500 for failing to timely register a property that automatically renews every ninety days until the responsible party registers the property, pays all fees, or the property is no longer subject to registration. The maximum annual amount of fees, penalties, and assessments is $4,000. If a responsible owner fails to register a property, the city may register it and pay the fee. All unpaid fees and penalties are a lien on the land, and the City Law Department may seek recovery of all fees and penalties by any legal means. Any responsible party who violates the Ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to a maximum fine of $500, a maximum prison term of six months, or both. Each day a violation continues is a separate offense.

Anthony D. Todero

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