Tools to Prevent and Eliminate Blight and Keep Properties Up to Code

This section describes the need to enact enforceable laws that prevent and eliminate blight and to use code enforcement strategies that are progressive and based on data. Municipalities must have a legal framework to enforce, whether it is in the form of a comprehensive code or individual targeted laws. Dealing with a potential violation as swiftly as possible is the most cost-effective approach to preventing blight and abandonment. Tools discussed in this section are intended to bring vacant properties into code compliance and to eliminate blight. The most severe actions are reserved for long-term vacant properties that threaten a community’s health and safety.

The following numbered points outline steps that municipalities can take to prevent and eliminate blight. The bulleted items are specific laws and strategies. Click on the chapter headlines for a detailed discussion about each step.

1. By enacting key codes or individual ordinances, setting a legal framework, and holding properties to clear standards, municipalities can better maintain the condition of occupied properties and prevent blight

  • International Property Maintenance Code or Individual Ordinances: A legal framework to hold properties to clear standards
  • Quality-of-Life-Violation Ticketing Ordinance: Tickets and fines for code violations that are visible on the exteriors of private properties

Chapter 1. Adopt Legal Framework to Hold Properties to Clear Standards

2. By requiring the registration of rental, vacant, and foreclosed properties, municipalities can better monitor conditions and finance proactive efforts to ensure that properties remain up to code

  • Registration of Rental Properties: Requiring rental-property owners to provide contact information for the owners or their local agents, pay an annual fee to cover the costs of regular inspections and complaint response, and learn their responsibilities under the code and regulations
  • Registration of Vacant Properties: Requiring vacant-property owners to provide contact information for the owners or local agents, pay an annual fee to cover the costs of regular inspections and complaint response, and learn their responsibilities under the code and regulations
  • Registration of Foreclosed Properties: Partnering with a for-profit company to require lenders to register properties once they are in default, pay an annual fee, and identify a contact person to oversee the security and maintenance of foreclosed properties

Chapter 2. Register Rental, Vacant, and Foreclosed Properties to Better Monitor Conditions

3. By requiring that properties be brought up to code within a specific time frame after sale and by disqualifying tax-sale bidders who have tax delinquencies or code violations, municipalities can break the cycle of blight

  • Presale Inspections: Requiring sellers to pay for inspections before transferring properties to new owners and notify owners of deficiencies or bring properties up to code
  • Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act: Requiring purchasers of properties that have known code violations to resolve the violations within 18 months
  • Disqualification of Tax Sale Bidders: Restricting bidders who have tax delinquencies or code violations

Chapter 3. Require Buyers to Bring Properties Up to Code Within a Specific Time Frame After Sale and Disqualify Tax-Sale Bidders Who Have Tax Delinquencies or Code Violations

4. By making grants and loans available to homeowners or small, “mom and pop” landlords who lack the money to keep their properties up to code, municipalities can improve the housing stock condition, eliminate blight, and revitalize neighborhoods

  • Home Repair and Rental Rehabilitation Assistance: Financial assistance to owners who lack the money to bring properties up to code

Chapter 4. Offer Grants and Loans to Homeowners and Small Landlords Who Lack Resources to Keep Their Properties Up to Code

5. By prioritizing severely blighted properties that threaten health and safety, and by gaining the owners’ attention through significant fines, permit denials, or criminal charges, municipalities can encourage owners to repair and maintain blighted properties. The goal is to change the owners’ stance from “I’m going to ignore you” to “How much time do I have to get my property into compliance?”

  • Doors and Windows Ordinance: Fines for each missing door and window, and increasing fines over time
  • Permit Denial: Denying permits to owners of tax-delinquent properties or properties that have judgments for serious code violations
  • Asset Attachment: Attaching owners’ other assets to pay to demolish or improve properties
  • Hall of Shame: Bringing public pressure to bear on owners of the most blighted properties
  • Criminal Misdemeanor Sanctions for Multiple Code Violations: Criminal penalties on owners who repeatedly violate building, property maintenance, or housing codes
  • Extradition of Out-of-State Property Owners: Asking Pennsylvania’s governor to extradite property owners living in other states so that they can be brought for criminal prosecution

Chapter 5. Prioritize Severely Blighted Properties That Threaten Health and Safety, and Use Fines, Permit Denials, or Criminal Charges to Encourage Repair and Maintenance