West New York establishes property registration program

The move aims to keep tabs on vacant and abandoned buildings under foreclosure in town

The West New York Board of Commissioners met via Zoom on April 28.

West New York officials want to keep better tabs on vacant and abandoned property in town that are subject to foreclosure.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance amending the municipal code for “real property” to establish vacant property registration rules and regulations at its April 27 meeting.

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According to the ordinance, like many other densely populated municipalities within New Jersey, West New York contains a significant number of vacant and abandoned buildings that can create problems for the municipality when those properties are not properly maintained and secured by their owners.

The issues can include a decrease in neighboring property values, a potential rise in criminal activity, public health and safety hazards, a heightened risk of fires, and a reduction of municipal revenues.

Due to the increased risk of blight presented by foreclosure properties, the state has provided municipalities with statutory tools to identify such properties, to monitor their status and condition, and mitigate the risk that they become vacant and abandoned and ultimately lead to blight within the community.

The state has allowed municipalities to adopt ordinances to establish a property registration program to identify and monitor residential and commercial properties within the municipality that are subject to a pending foreclosure action, according to the ordinance.

The state also enabled municipal ordinances to regulate the maintenance, security and upkeep of the exterior condition of vacant and abandoned residential and commercial foreclosure properties and to impose additional property registration fees to be paid by the creditors of such properties on an annual or semi-annual basis.

West New York has moved to establish additional requirements and annual registration fees for vacant and abandoned residential and commercial properties for which a summons and complaint to foreclose upon a mortgage has been filed.

Inside the ordinance

The town will establish a registry cataloging each “registrable property” and each “vacant and abandoned property.”

According to the ordinance, “vacant and abandoned property” is defined as including overgrown or neglected vegetation; the accumulation of newspapers, circulars, flyers, or mail on the property; disconnected gas, electric, or water utility services to the property; the accumulation of hazardous, noxious, or unhealthy substances or materials on the property; the accumulation of junk, litter, trash, or debris on the property; the absence of window treatments such as blinds, curtains, or shutters; the absence of furnishings and personal items; statements of neighbors, delivery persons, or government employees indicating that the property is vacant and abandoned.

Other signs of a “vacant and abandoned property” as defined by the ordinance include windows or entrances to the property that are boarded up or closed off, or multiple windowpanes that are damaged, broken, and unrepaired; doors to the property that are smashed through, broken off, unhinged, or continuously unlocked; a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of the public or any adjoining or adjacent property owners due to acts of vandalism, loitering, criminal conduct, or the physical destruction or deterioration of the property.

Additional definitions include an uncorrected violation of a municipal building, housing, or similar code during the preceding year, or an order by municipal authorities declaring the property to be unfit for occupancy and to remain vacant and unoccupied; the mortgagee or other authorized party has secured or winterized the property due to the property being deemed vacant and unprotected or in danger of freezing; a written statement issued by a mortgagor expressing the clear intent of all mortgagors to abandon the property; or any other reasonable indicators of abandonment.

Properties shall be inspected by mortgagee upon default by the mortgagor. The mortgagee must indicate with Code Enforcement Department if property is vacant or occupied. 

Registering the property

Mortgagees who have existing registrable property on the effective date of the ordinance have 30 calendar days to register the property with the Code Enforcement Department and indicate whether the property is vacant or occupied. As long as the property is subject to registration with the Town’s Property Registration Program, it must be inspected monthly by the mortgagee and any changes must be updated within 10 days.

The creditor is required to secure the premises against unauthorized entry and post a sign that is affixed to the inside of the property and visible to the public, indicating the name, address, and telephone number of the creditor or an out-of-state creditor’s in-state representative or agent. The town’s construction official is responsible for issuing a notice to the creditor filing the summons and complaint in an action to foreclose if the creditor has violated the ordinance.

A non-refundable fee of $500 will accompany each registration. If a property falls within the definition for “vacant and abandoned” per the ordinance, there will be an additional annual registration fee of $2,000. 

Any creditor that fails to comply with the property registration requirements will be issued a summons. Penalties for violations related to the ordinance can range from $1,500 to $2,500 per day.

Twenty percent of all revenue generated by the application of the regulations will be used to carry out municipal purposes related to code enforcement, abatement of nuisance conditions, and other activities designed to minimize blight and or promote the productive use of properties within the town. Read the full ordinance online at westnewyorknj.org/_Content/pdf/ordinances/Ord0422.pdf.

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