Supervisors to consider county ordinance to deal with ‘unsafe properties’
by Larry Chowning
On March 7 the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors discussed the possibilities of adopting a county ordinance to force the demolition of, or improvements to, unsafe structures throughout Middlesex.
Building official David Selph said that two years ago, at the request of supervisors, he identified 13 unsafe structures along the main roads and notified the landowners. He said half of the property owners complied with his notice and either boarded up the houses or tore them down. The other half, however, are still in the same or worse condition, he said.
County attorney Heather Lewis had been asked by the supervisors to review the county code section on unsafe structures. She reported at the March 7 meeting that county and state codes are clear in that the county has authority to act on unsafe structures, requiring owners to make them safe or demolish them.
Lewis indicated state code allows the county to demolish unsafe structures at taxpayer expense. The county, however, needs a local ordinance to place a lien on the property to require property owners pay for the cost of demolition and removal of debris.
The current county legal method is for Selph to send out an “unsafe property” notice to the property owner. The property owner can appeal the notice by appearing before the Middlesex Code of Appeals Board. If nothing is settled there, the appeal will be heard in Middlesex County Circuit Court.
When going to court, Lewis indicated some property owners might require court-appointed attorneys to represent them, which the county would have to pay for.
Selph indicated a county ordinance on unsafe property could be worded to speed up the process.
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