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January 14, 2013

Perhaps a Blight Solution

Jill King

Blighted properties is a "hot button" Frederick City issue, which has made its way to legislation, presented by Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat from Frederick’s 3rd District and husband of Frederick City Alderman Karen Young.


Senator Young has proposed SB28 to rectify some of the failure to address the issue, by city representatives, which has evolved over numerous years.


According to the legislation, a blighted property is:


·       Vacant or boarded for at least one year;


·       Has been subject to nuisance complaints; and


·       Does not meet the requirements of the Applicable Local Housing Code or the Minimum Livability Code.


Currently, Frederick City uses a team of Code Enforcement officers to cite and charge home and business owners deemed to be in violation of the city code. This can be as extreme as leaking roofs around electric wires or as minute as trash on the premises or standing water. Homeowners also can be cited when neighbors call in complaining about visible violation, such as failure to clean up after pets or grass too high. With leased or rented buildings, interior complaints have to be made by tenants. Many will not complain, due to the affordable nature of the unit. Some have egregious and serious issues, some life threatening, yet they are warm and in from the weather.


Duk Hee Ro owns numerous properties in Frederick City and is a poster child for SB28. Her neglect of many of the properties she owns has left Frederick City's main business street with vacant properties, one of which has been vacant for more than 10 years. Another restaurant she leased landed lessee on the street and temporarily out of business due to the egregious nature of the infractions; these were both safety and structural.


According to reports, Ms. Ro has the highest number of code violations, with 63 on 13 properties, within the City of Frederick. Others include persons who have obtained foreclosures and landlords who can be compared to Danny Devito's character, in the movie "The Super."


With SB28, a remediation plan is put into effect for owners and then trickles down to what encourages the blighted property owner to sell the property at or below its assessed value, and asks for the disclosure of the reason the property is a public nuisance which must be revealed at the time of the sale.


One of the main problems in Frederick City is the additional layer of licensure on construction businesses who complete repairs. Plumbers, for instance, are trained to work on all aspects of plumbing, yet without a city license they cannot even repair a pipe within the city. The costs then get passed down to the consumer, who either does the "happy homeowner repair" or in some instances uses someone to do the work who is knowledgeable, possibly licensed, yet without a city license. This, in turn, takes work from professionals and creates an underground network for improvements.


Permits are also required for much of this work, which also encourages people to save money in a poor economy. Some of the permits could be to raise a fence from four to six feet, or even replace existing rotting structure, prevalent in much of the historic downtown areas.


The City Code is full of items that really have nothing to do with safety or requirements, or even property rights, yet they do add more under these requirements; this in turn costs the whole community.


Historic District regulations are more stringent, including declaring exact materials for replacement and very little upgrades. It is no wonder the city is falling apart.


Property rights, as defined by law, is a two way street; that of one's own and those that impose on others. If a neighboring structure or attached structure is causing harm to an adjacent property, the neighboring property currently has no method via code to correct them unless they are exterior.


Vacant buildings are one of the biggest problems and can – at times – be considered a public nuisance. This is not, of course, unique to Frederick City, but many areas nationwide; the recession has not helped. When homes go into foreclosure, prior owners sometimes take it out on the structure or else there is a busy real estate company that steps in. Often times these firms do not maintain the property; examples include, changing out smoke detector batteries, making sure the temperature is over 40 degrees in the winter, or even tending to the growth of grass, weeds, and trees on the property.


Frederick City is diverse in economic status. In a perfect world, everyone could afford required repairs. When one owns additional rental properties, it is their responsibility to meet requirements. It is also a tenant’s responsibility to report such offenses.


SB28 appears to be a method of resolution to an issue that plagues most cities across the U.S. It still does not encourage the affordability, nor the use of professionals in fixing such nuisances. With the creation of this, costs of the properties will increase and push those living downtown to outer areas.


What this bill creates is gentrification. If we would like to get to the root of the issue – creating affordable measures for fixing properties combined with keeping the buildings from becoming vacant and demolished by neglect – could be cheaper and this would not occur. For those who still refuse, there is now a policy presented that would cover their refusal and provide a pathway for solving the problem of blighted properties. Frederick City still needs more work on the code, though.


A vibrant city is needed, but one that honors affordability for the residents who have called it home for many years, many for generations.


retraining my brain for the future, conferring with the past....


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