Township addressing abandoned homes issue

| 01 Dec 2016 | 01:17

People in just about every community are concerned about abandoned homes in their neighborhoods. Their concern centers on empty houses in a significant number of home developments and other homes that front public roads. Some of the buildings are in foreclosure – and there are some others where people have believed their option is to just move away.
The West Milford Housing Standards Board members are aware of these concerns and are doing something about them. Their next board meeting is on Dec. 6 at 9:30 a.m. in the main meeting room of the West Milford Municipal Building.
In October, Health Officer Michael Hodges encouraged the board to discuss plans for a new abandoned property ordinance.
Hodges shared a conversation he had with the Hillsborough Township Health Officer. He told of placing placards in and out of problem houses. He said the placard would go a long way to show the residents and neighbors of these properties that the township is indeed working to secure and maintain them.
Hodges also discussed the matter at the township council meeting in November. He suggested an ordinance similar to Hillsborough's that would have owners of vacant homes register with the township and pay a fee to cover maintenance on the property if the owner doesn't provide it. The ordinance is specifically geared toward banks that own homes in foreclosure but don't maintain them.
"This is long overdue," said Councilwoman Michele Dale. "It holds the banks to a higher standard. It creates revenue for the municipality to help offset any maintenance costs for the municipality. I would fully support this change."
The concerns about the empty houses include the fear that rats and other animals are moving in and bringing disease and related concerns with them; vagrants could be settling in – or narcotic users are finding them as a place to hide and use drugs. Then there’s the concern of neighboring home values going down as the abandoned homes and surrounding properties deteriorate.
The ordinance would be applicable to properties that have been abandoned three months or longer.
After more research by Hodges, township attorney Fred Semrau will review it.
The Building Standards Board also discussed property cleanups where complaints have been registered. Included were notices to cut grass on vacant properties, address stagnant water left in pools, and violations noted about a Weaver Road house determined to be an unsafe structure. In discussing the latter issue, the officials said the house was in very bad shape and looked ready to collapse. Violations in reference to it were issued after the health officer investigated and confirmed an unsafe structure.