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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Council Approves Ordinances Dealing with Problem Properties

The City Council on November 19th gave final approval to two ordinances relating to vacant and nuisance properties in an effort to improve quality of life and neighborhood stability for city residents.

First, the “Foreclosed and Abandoned Property Registration, Security and Maintenance” ordinance creates a database of vacant and abandoned properties, and requires owners to keep them well-maintained and secured. Second, the so-called “nuisance properties” ordinance is two-fold, and sets new penalties for properties cited for loud and unruly gatherings, and creates a new section on “chronic nuisance properties.”

Foreclosed and Abandoned Property Registration Ordinance

The abandoned and foreclosed property ordinance was originally introduced by Councilwoman Sabina Matos and Councilman Bryan Principe, and subsequently co-sponsored by the entire Council. The purpose of the ordinance is to address the large number of vacant properties in the city, which often fall into disrepair, and are neglected. Council President Michael A. Solomon stated, “Rhode Island was one of the states hurt the most by the foreclosure crisis. Many foreclosed homes in Providence have been abandoned, or left vacant for months or years, resulting in a lack of upkeep, theft, and/or vandalism. Owners must take responsibility for their property; otherwise we risk further deterioration of our housing stock.”

Under the proposed ordinance, owners of a vacant or abandoned property must annually register the property with the Department of Inspections and Standards (DIS), are responsible keeping it clear of garbage, vermin, and graffiti, and must properly secure it against thieves and vandals. Owners also must post their contact information, as well as the contact information for the Police Department and the Office of Neighborhood Services on the front of the property. DIS will inspect each property in the database at least four times per year.

Owners will be charged a $100 fee when first registering a property, $200 to re-register for a second year, and $300 for each subsequent year. Failure to register will result in a $250 per day fine. All monies collected under the proposed ordinance will be specifically earmarked for projects related to improving housing in Providence.

Loud & Unruly Gatherings and Chronic Nuisance Properties

The ordinance updates a city law that has been on the books since 2006 by adjusting the penalties. The “loud or unruly gatherings” section was modeled on the Narragansett law that is better known as the “orange sticker” law. Under the new language, the police department can issue a $500 fine if they have to intervene to deal with a public nuisance more than once in a six-month period. A public nuisance is defined as any gathering of five or more people where illegal activity results in “substantial disturbance” to the neighborhood.

The “chronic nuisance property” section aims to protect residents and neighborhoods from the negative impacts of chronic nuisance properties throughout the city by providing a process for law enforcement to take action against repeat offenders.

The legislation defines a “chronic nuisance property” as that which two or more incidents—such as homicide, illegal possession of controlled substances, assault or battery, prostitution, et cetera—have occurred in a six-month period, or that which two search warrants have been executed on for drug related offenses during a 24-month period.

“Residents throughout Providence have suffered the negative consequences of chronic nuisance properties, be it through public health, public safety, or public inconvenience,” said President Solomon. “These properties jeopardize economic development and afflict our quality of life; however, the city lacked the proper legal recourse which this new legislation includes. Hopefully, by enabling city departments to cooperate and penalize repeat offenders we can better protect our neighborhoods from chronic nuisance properties.”

The ordinances will be sent to the mayor for his signature.