Owners of vacant or abandoned property soon could be required to register with the city of Reynoldsburg and pay up to $1,000 in annual fees.

City Council on April 23 heard the first reading of legislation that, if approved, would "establish a program for identifying and registering vacant buildings. This registration is to be used as a tool to protect and preserve our neighborhoods from becoming blighted through the lack of adequate maintenance and security concerns at vacant structures. The city of Reynoldsburg believes the presence of vacant buildings can lead to neighborhood decline, create public nuisances, contribute to lower property values and discourage potential buyers from purchasing a home or business in neighborhoods with vacant properties."

The law would require interior and exterior inspections and impose a fee of $200 in the initial year of registry. Fees would increase by an additional $200 for each year the property remains vacant, to a maximum of $1,000 annually.

It also would require owners to provide the city with a "security plan" to keep trespassers out of such properties.

While the exact number of vacant or abandoned properties within the city is unknown, it's "too many," said Chris Shook, city attorney.

"For the most part, vacant homes will tend to have multiple exterior-code violations that get progressively worse if unattended," Shook said. "There will be the typical issues with lawn maintenance, but that is not our primary concern.

"The biggest concerns are going to be issues we may not know about, such as interior problems that could affect the safety of the residents in the area of the vacant property and a lack of security for the building that makes it accessible to individuals who could break in and use the building for potential criminal activity."

Tracking the properties and ensuring owners comply with the registration requirements will fall to the city's code-enforcement officers and the service department.

"The service department will be maintaining the registry and reviewing the security and reclamation plans," Shook said. "This is going to be a work in progress. We will obviously have owners of vacant properties who do not comply with the registration requirements, either because they are not aware of their obligation or out of neglect.

"We will be relying on our code-enforcement officers, in conjunction with law enforcement, as well as the public, to identify properties that are not in compliance."

Residents who suspect a property to be vacant can report it to the service department so an attempt can be made to trace the title and inspect it for exterior code violations.

The city regularly receives complaints, Shook said, including from City Council members.

Shanette Strickland, Ward 1 councilwoman, started pushing for the legislation after taking office in January.

"I noticed the empty, vacant homes and commercial businesses around Reynoldsburg that sat for years with little or no activity," Strickland said. "My neighbors talked to me about vacant homes on their streets and how their complaints fell on deaf ears.

"We needed to have a meaningful legislation in place, and with the assistance of assistant city attorney (Michael) Shaw, a draft was created. We're doing this to avoid any criminal activity, protect our property value for our neighbors and build public trust."

Property owners would be required to register within 90 days of a property becoming vacant or 30 days after receiving a registration notification from the city.

Failure to register would be an unclassified misdemeanor.

Violations could be filed in mayor's court or in county municipal court.

Marysville, Dayton, Cincinnati and Urbana are among the Ohio communities with similar vacant-property registrations.

"Vacant buildings can become contagious in a neighborhood, and it affects the property values of those who reside in the area," Shook said.

"We do not want to look back in 15 years, see a proliferation of vacant buildings and wonder if there had been something more we could have done to be proactive to address the problem ahead of time.

Council is expected to vote on the legislation at its May 26 meeting.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews