LOCK HAVEN – Vacant properties may be required to register with the City of Lock Haven government.
City Council considered a potential ordinance for a register of vacant properties at its meeting this week.
The ordinance was something council unanimously requested earlier in 2022, City Manager Gregory Wilson said.
The order, which could come into effect in February 2023 – after the first quarter – would require landlords to register if the property remains vacant for more than 90 days.
Wilson noted that the time allowed allows the city to hire a property maintenance officer. A part-time property maintenance worker has been budgeted in 2021 and 2022. Wilson said he will also be budgeted in 2023.
“It will be there as an estimate of the ‘waiting place’. This likely won’t reflect the actual salary to be paid, but more than that to help cover hiring, training and testing costs,” he said.
Wilson further explained that he took into account that the position was full-time. “So that the person can be trained as both a property maintenance worker and begin to get their credentials and training to become the city’s building code official when the current BCO will retire.”
“It really depends on finding the right candidate, whether it’s a part-time position or potentially a full-time position,” he said.
The officer would focus primarily on this order.
“He’s the person who would basically enforce that order,” said Wilson. “This order also provides for an annual fee for these vacant properties due to the work that the property maintenance officer would have to do to ensure that these properties are not infringed.”
The fee was included to offset the cost of the officer, he said.
A breakdown of potential charges is as follows:
— $100 less than one year vacant.
— $250 for one year of vacation.
— $500 for two years of vacation.
— $1,000 for 3 to 4 years of vacation.
— $2,500 for 5 to 9 years of vacation.
— $5,000 for 10 years of vacation.
An additional $500 would be applied for each year of vacancy beyond 10 years, the order says, with 2023 considered the first year for buildings that require registration.
Wilson said he modeled the fee after the order from Monaca, Pennsylvania. Monaca is a borough in western Pennsylvania located approximately 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh with a population of over 5,000.
“The main difference between the proposed order and the Monaca order…are the charges and fees,” said Wilson. “Monaco’s fees are significantly higher than those shown here. For example, the second year in Monaco is $1,000. All fees are well under half of what he charges.
Wilson said nearby Lewisburg also had a vacant property registry, but noted it was more complex.
“It’s the least complex, the least complicated that’s probably the best place to start,” he said.
The proposed ordinance has yet to go to city attorney Justin Houser for a final reading and includes a list of definitions as well as details regarding the registration process and required maintenance.
Wilson added that owners who are actively maintaining a vacant property and looking for occupants can ask the council for a fee waiver.
“According to the fee schedule, there is a fee waiver. Anyone who genuinely makes a good faith effort and keeps the property in compliance may apply to council for a waiver of this fee,” he said. ‘Even if you’re in year five…if you actually take care of your property, the council could revisit that and waive the fee entirely.’
According to Wilson, the fees are included because of the work the property maintenance officer would have to do to keep vacant properties compliant.
“I think it’s absolutely legitimate that the longer a building sits vacant, the more likely it is that the cost of the application (which) will increase,” he said. Wilson acknowledged that there are landlords who make efforts to maintain vacant properties.
“But I think there are a lot of people who can try this (waiver) if their building has been vacant for five years or more, which probably couldn’t justify this council fee waiver,” he said.
Wilson said an FAQ will be available on the city’s website — www.lockhavenpa.gov — for residents to review ahead of any potential passage of the ordinance.
“If anyone else has any questions, especially members of the public, they can email me at email@example.com,” he said. “Each of these questions will be listed on the city’s website along with the answers. So if you have a similar question, you can hopefully find the answer there.
Mayor Joel Long noted that passing the ordinance would only move it to second reading.
“It will give people time to read it and have their questions answered,” he said.
“And Justin will watch it while waiting to tighten it”, Council member Barb Masorti added.
Wilson added that if substantial changes were made, the ordinance could go back to first reading to give the public more time to consider it.