WINDBER – A new Windber Borough law aims to curb blight by requiring owners to register properties at a point borough homes often become abandoned: mortgage defaults and foreclosures.
The move requires properties to be registered with the borough and inspected for code violations when a property goes into foreclosure, has a lien filed against it or the mortgage defaults, Borough Manager Jim Furmanchik said.
Too often, it’s a moment when a home stops being cared for by owners and a series of deed transactions start occurring that can make it difficult to track down a property owner when issues arise, Furmanchik said.
“In my opinion, this is going to make it easier to contact owners of these properties. And it ensures those owners are aware of their obligations as it pertains to code enforcement and borough regulations,” he said.
Furmanchik said the objective is to make sure the minimum standards for upkeep are met.
Many times, property code violations involve high weeds and grass or bags of garbage or unwanted belongings that start to pile up on porches, he said.
“After a while, if something isn’t done about it, properties start to deteriorate,” he said.
If no one is living inside the home, it becomes more difficult to find someone to address the issue, code officer Anson Bloom said.
An out-of-state owner might have a property manager overseeing issues with the home and a landscaping company trimming the yard from time to time, Bloom said.
The borough’s registration form requires the deed holder to identify and provide contact information for whoever owns the property, the person or entity taking care of it and the person responsible for it, he said.
“The whole idea is to address little problems so they never become big problems,” said Bloom, who also serves as Windber’s zoning officer. “Because the big problems are the ones that become a burden to deal with.”
Bloom said that became clear this summer and the borough started adding up longtime blights that need addressed.
“Hopefully,” he said, “this (law) will keep properties from getting added to that list. This way, if an issue comes up, we’ll be able to get the problem addressed faster ... or if we have to take legal action, we’ll be able to do that faster, too.”
Borough officials had a public hearing on the ordinance before approving it last week in a final vote.
The ordinance also requires a nonrefundable $200 per-property annual registration fee, the ordinance shows.
Furmanchik said the fee will be deposited into a borough fund that will be used to cover the costs of battling property abandonment issues and blight. Because registration is required annually for as long as the property remains “abandoned,” he’s hopeful it will motivate property owners to find new uses for the properties.
Those who fail to comply, could face civil fines that could add up to hundreds of dollars per day, the ordinance shows.