Reynoldsburg City Council: 'Heavy lift' ahead to register vacant properties

Kelley Youman
ThisWeek
Reynoldsburg City Hall

More than six months after Reynoldsburg began tracking vacant properties, dozens of homes and commercial buildings remain unregistered. 

Since City Council enacted the law in May, code-enforcement officials have used billing records from the water department for properties that have not had working water service, information from neighbors and visual inspections to investigate more than 100 suspected vacant properties, City Attorney Chris Shook said.  

The law requires inspections and imposes an initial registration fee of $200 per property. 

Fees increase by an additional $200 for each year the property remains vacant, to a maximum of $1,000 annually. 

The ordinance calls the registry "a tool to protect and preserve our neighborhoods from becoming blighted through the lack of adequate maintenance and security concerns at vacant structures.” 

According to the ordinance, city officials believe 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." 

Officials said such vacant structures often have exterior code violations and can become havens for such crimes as drug- and human-trafficking.  

“The biggest sign is actually a lack of water usage,” Shook said.” If a property has not used any water for several months in a residential district, we have a good idea that it is vacant. We have had two or three properties where they were still being occupied without water usage, but that is a very small percentage of the whole.  

“Our main concern with these properties is that they can be used or accessed by individuals who are not the owner, potentially for criminal activity,” he said. “Our secondary concern is that they often become dilapidated and have a negative impact on the value of the homes in the same neighborhood.” 

According to the legislation, a building is deemed vacant if it is unoccupied for more than 60 days, has disconnected utilities or property-maintenance violations or is unsecured or secured by "other than normal means." Owners must provide the city with a "security plan" to keep trespassers out.  

Buildings under foreclosure or those with a mortgage status of abandonment also could be deemed vacant. 

“We originally identified 157 suspected vacant properties in the city,” Shook said. “We researched the record owners of these properties and sent a notice to each owner at the address we could find ... informing the owners of the new ordinance and advising them of the process and timing for registration and of the listed exemptions from registration. We received a lot of calls and feedback from those notices, requests for exemptions and disputes from owners about whether their property was vacant.” 

After the initial investigations, the city removed 59 properties from the list, eight of which have since sold, Shook said. Another 19 have new tenants and 32 were determined to be occupied. 

 “That left us with 98 vacant properties in the city that we identified,” he said.  

Of those properties, 36 are now registered with the city, pursuant to the requirements of the ordinance. About a dozen others received exemptions, are up for sale or have open building permits, Shook said. 

As of December, 49 properties remained unregistered, according to information provided to ThisWeek Reynoldsburg News

“We are issuing mayor’s court citations on 16 of those properties for failing to register with the city after having received certified mail notice to do so,” Shook said. “With the remaining properties, we have had difficulty finding and/or serving the owners ... notice of their obligation to register. 

“Some of the properties had owners who are now deceased and there was no estate opened up. Some of those properties have absentee owners who moved away and we cannot locate their current address. This is the next heavy lift as we finalize the vacant-property registration list.” 

According to information from the city, Livingston Avenue leads the list with at least five vacant properties that are unregistered, including two former restaurants, a barbershop and a carryout. Water service has been shut off to one building since 2010, according to registry information. 

Other streets with multiple unregistered vacant properties include: Lancaster Avenue with three properties, and Main Street, Broadwyn Drive and Palmer and Retton roads with two each. 

When combined with the list of registered properties, however, Main Street shows the highest number with 12 vacant homes and businesses, according to city records. 

The city won’t post the vacant property registry online but it is a public record, available upon request. 

“We do not want to put a list out of properties that are vacant out of concern that people may attempt to break into those properties or otherwise use them for illegal means if they know they are vacant,” Shook said. 

Failure to register vacant properties is an unclassified misdemeanor. Violations could be filed in mayor's court or in county municipal court. 

Employees from the city attorney’s office and service departments will begin 2021 by trying to track down absentee owners. 

Residents who suspect a property is vacant should report it to the service department by calling 614-322-6810 so the city can attempt to trace the title and inspect it for exterior code violations. 

“Our primary goal is to see these properties are sold and used for their intended purpose,” Shook said. “In the alternative, we want to be sure they are secured and taken care of. We are at just under 100 vacant properties in the city. If we can get that number under 50 by this time next year, I would consider that significant progress.” 

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