Springfield City Council got a preview this week of plans to address dangerous structures and chronic nuisance properties.
During its Tuesday lunch meeting, Building Development Services (BDS) Director Chris Straw told council that the volume of service requests for these properties have recently increased. The complaints come following the city’s Community Listening tours in 2015 and subsequent Zone Blitz effort on the north side.
He’s proposing a free online registration process for single family properties, in which the landlord must register the site with the city. Any service requests would trigger an inspection process. If a violation is found on an unregistered property a notice would be sent. If the owner does not request a hearing, a non-registration penalty fee of $200 will be assessed, but it would not excuse the violation.
“This program will not grant us access to the property. It’s strictly an information gathering tool. We then will take that, we will double back with the property owner, and we will request permission to enter the property,” Straw said.
Chronic nuisance properties are defined as those in which repeated service requests or complain calls are received or responded to. These calls or services could be carried out by the police or fire departments or BDS. In Springfield, some properties have had upwards of 70 complaint calls in a single year.
The issue was one of the top concerns listed after the Community Listening tour, and was named as a number one priority in many of the Zone Blitz brainstorming sessions.
The proposal presented Tuesday is the result of a Safe Housing Pilot Program BDS launched last year in partnership with the West Central Neighborhood Association. The formal proposal will be presented to the City Council next month.
Straw points to many issues with fixing nuisance or vacant properties, including those that undergo a sudden change in the ownership when the case has already come before the courts.
“We start the case, we have the hearing, we move forward, and we tear it down or we clean it up, and all of the sudden it changes ownership; because the new owner was not a part of the legal process, we just lost.”
But he remains optimistic about the new system of registering and inspecting properties. During the pilot project, Straw says officials teamed with social service and faith agencies to accommodate occupants who needed to be temporarily relocated due to live-safety concerns during the remediation process.
He added that they have related plans for vacant properties.
“We are going to require a free registration of vacant properties in a similar fashion to what we’ve got for rental registration.”
In his presentation, Straw noted research that shows vacant or abandoned buildings are linked to increased crime, fire and higher insurance premiums.
Along with registering them, Straw also proposed changes to how the city defines and responds to vacant buildings and to what Missouri already defines as a vacant or dangerous property.
“We don’t have a strong tie to the state code, so the proposed language would first state the state language and then further define that language using our current violation language.”
Straw suggested that a vacant structure be defined as “a structure that is substantially void of personal belongings and furnishings.”
He concluded that the best way to start these programs and reduce the amount of chronic nuisance properties is to increase education for landlords and renters throughout Springfield.