Members of the Plymouth City Council heard from the public on the proposed idea of creating a property registration program for the city during their meeting Monday evening.
Council members were presented with a draft ordinance at the April 12th meeting. City Attorney Sean Surrisi said the draft ordinance is in a very raw state with lots of room to be edited and customized to fit the needs of city department heads and the council’s wishes.
City Building Inspector Keith Hammonds told the council he was approached by a Florida company, ProChamps who proactively pursue property registration of vacant and foreclosed properties. He said they do all the research to find the property owners and charged the property owners a registration fee of at least $100 per property. The city can increase the fee and keep a portion for the city. Hammonds said he was interested in the property registration to help find absentee owners and in turn get properties cleaned up.
Plymouth City Attorney Sean Surrisi said, “The advantage to this helps develop a richer database of things our various departments can use such as the Building Commissioner with zoning administration or the police department with code enforcement. This can be a central repository of some of that data. That data can be used then when you are out in the field to determine if the home is vacant, in foreclosure and who the owner is.” The data would show if code enforcement has sent notices to the property owner and where they are in the process of improving.
During the meeting, several members of the local landlord group spoke about their concerns. Al Eisenhour asked how long a property could be vacant before it would be on the list. He said the draft ordinance said 10 days. Eisenhour, a landlord said typically it takes 30 days or more to get a new tenant in a home. He also said sometimes a property is purchased with the intention to flip it or turn it into a rental, but that takes some time.
Steve Guriel asked if the registration was only for single homes or multi-family units. Hammonds said the building would have to be totally empty so it wouldn’t include apartment buildings. He also said he is too busy to have to search for the owner. Sometimes he can use the county’s GIS or he has to go to the Treasurer’s office.
Dan Lowry asked if there were a lot of vacant properties in the city that he can’t find the owners? He said he uses the county’s GIS and finds property owners easily. Lowry said he has a property on Pierce Street that was damaged in the Feb. 2018 flood but FEMA would not pay. He said he is saving money to rebuild it. He noted that he takes care of it and hasn’t gotten any letters from the city. Lowry said charging a fee would just be something else on the backs of landlords.
The city attorney assured the landlords the city can change the language of the ordinance to exclude things such as flip, and properties that are bring attended to.
Councilman Greg Compton said, “I’m an advocate of code enforcement. The key to that is enforcement. Maybe that is something we need to figure out. Improving enforcement can improve our tax base as well.”
Plymouth Police Chief Dave Bacon told the Board of Public Works and Safety code enforcement has issued over 200 letters of notification since the first of the year.
The building inspector said he just finished dealing with a vacant property on Garro Street and will start on the property at 801 Sycamore Street next. He also noted property on Pennsylvania, Lake Avenue and Ferndale.
Councilman Jeff Houin, who is also an attorney, has dealt with hundreds of foreclosures and said they take quiet a bit of time. He said the home isn’t actually foreclosed until the property is transferred. If a home is vacant the bank is responsible for the upkeep. He said, “I don’t understand why it would benefit us to pile on additional fees for landlords or homeowners who are struggling to make their payments.”
The City Council tabled any action on the draft ordinance.
Councilmen Greg Compton and Jeff Houin will meet with the landlords at their next meeting on May 20th at the LifePlex at 6p.m.