City looking at tougher guidelines on boarded-up houses

  • Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 12:22 a.m.

SALISBURY — Acting on recommendations of its Housing Advocacy Commission, Salisbury City Council is moving closer to having new rules regarding boarded-up houses.

A 2011 survey showed the city had 118 boarded-up residential properties and 753 vacant properties total.

Chris Branham, the city’s chief codes enforcement officer, updated council Tuesday on plans to require the owners or agents of boarded-up houses to register those properties with the city.

The owners will then have a maximum of six months to bring the houses up to code, have them ready for occupancy or plan for demolition.

The commission has recommended a whole new part to Section 10 of the city code. Section 10-62 will be titled “Regulation of Boarded Up Residential Structures.”

“It is the purpose of this article,” the proposed wording says, “to promote the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the city of Salisbury by establishing reasonable regulations for boarded-up residential structures in order to prevent their detrimental effects in the city’s neighborhoods.”

Council plans a public hearing on the new regulations March 19.

There will be no fee attached to the registration of boarded-up houses.

Once the new regulations are adopted, owners of properties already boarded up will have a 90-day grace period to meet provisions of the law.

For future boarded-up structures, the owners must register those properties with the Code Services Division within 48 hours of boarding it up.

There will be specific guidelines on how to board up a house:

• Plywood, or an approved substitute, must fit over windows and doors and be flush with the outside of the molding.

• The plywood must be secured with a minimum 2 1/2-inch exterior screws, placed every 12 inches around the perimeter of the board. “If the frame is unable to be used to secure plywood to the opening, the method of using 2X4s and carriage bolts may be a substituted process,” the proposed regulations say.

• The plywood over door openings will have to be painted white.

• The plywood over windows will have to be painted black. “A white crosshair also has to be painted in the middle of the plywood to resemble a four-pane window,” the proposal says.

When the boarded-up house is registered with the Code Services Division, the owner also will have to submit a plan for the occupancy, repair or demolition of the structure and a plan for regular maintenance while it is boarded up.

Again, the registration expires in six months and cannot be renewed.

Owners who violate the new regulations will have 15 days from being notified by the city to make corrections. If the violations are not corrected, the owner will be fined $500 for the first day of being out of compliance and $50 a day after that until the violations are corrected.

The proposed regulations provide for a hearing and appeals process.

Councilman Brian Miller said he would be interested in knowing where other communities have been successful in taking this approach.

Branham said Durham has a housing stabilization program which employs this kind of device. Charlotte also has an ordinance similar to this, he said.

“I had no idea we actually had this many properties of this type,” Miller said, referring back to the 2011 survey.

Branham said if the six-month period expires and the owner is showing interest in the property and attempting to make repairs, the city would work with him and allow some time extension.

Councilman Pete Kennedy said he was worried the city was sending a mixed message to some of the property owners. On one hand, he said, the city has encouraged people to protect vacant properties by boarding them up, but now it’s proposing tougher regulations on boarded-up properties.

Branham said the ordinance is not intended to encourage the boarding up of properties as much as it is trying to bring consistency and better aesthetics to the process.

Rodney Queen, who is cochairman of the Housing Advocacy Commission, said the purpose of the new regulations is to address, in particular, properties that have been neglected for a long time.

He said the city has options and resources to work with people showing good-faith efforts to address their properties.

“I think we have a good balance there,” he said.

Kennedy, who said he was looking forward to the public hearing, asked Branham whether he could come up with a number showing how many boarded-up properties have absentee owners.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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