Back on September 23, 2007 we posted here about a Virginian-Pilot article which addresses the negative affects of abandoned housing in Norfolk and Portsmouth. We followed that post with another, on November 28, 2007, about how Norfolk was going to lobby the state for tools to combat vacant houses.
Virginia Code currently allows Cities, by ordinance, to require the owners of buildings that have been vacant for a continuous period of 12 months or more to register such buildings on an annual basis and may impose an annual registration fee not to exceed $25. Failure to register results in a $50 civil penalty. Failure to register in conservation and rehabilitation districts or in other areas designated as blighted results in a civil penalty of not more than $250. Norfolk does have a vacant building registry ordinance and it is in line with the above penalties.
SB162 is a proposed bill currently in the Senate Committee on Local Government . Its sister bill in the House, HB1210 (proposed by Delegate Ken Melvin, who represents a part of Norfolk), is in the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee. They propose increasing the $50 penalty to a $500 dollar penalty and increasing the $250 dollar maximum penalty in conservation and rehabilitation areas to a $2500 maximum.
Currently, the cost of maintaining and policing a vacant building registry is prohibitive. The City could spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars chasing down violators with the end result being a $50 or $500 penalty. Hopefully the proposed changes will make having a registry more viable and in turn reduce the number of vacant, blighted buildings.
Increasing the “penalties” for all vacant buildings (not just residences) seems like a win-win situation. It will provide a greater incentive for owners to not leave property vacant, and will generate more income for the city from those who do leave property vacant.