[HISTORY: Adopted by the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Somerville 8-20-62 as Ord. 584. Section 59-3 added at time of adoption of Code. Amended 8-5-68 by Ord No. 658. Amended in its entirety 4-18-94 by Ord. No. 1167. Further amendments noted where applicable.]
It is hereby found and declared that the existence or occupation of any building or buildings or parts thereof in the borough which are so old, dilapidated or have become so out-of-repair as to be dangerous, unsafe, unsanitary or otherwise unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use are inimical to the welfare and dangerous and injurious to the health and safety of the people of the borough and that a public necessity exists for the repair, closing or demolition of such building or buildings or part thereof.
The Health Officer of the Borough of Somerville is hereby appointed and designated as the Public Officer who shall exercise the powers described by this chapter.
Any building or buildings, or parts thereof, which have come into a state of disrepair through neglect, lack of maintenance or use, fire, accident or other calamities, or through any other act rendering the building or buildings, structures or parts thereof, in a state of disrepair to the extent that the building is unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use, shall be deemed inimical to the welfare of the residents of the municipality wherein it is located, and the Public Officer may exercise his powers to repair, demolish, or cause the repairing or demolition of the building or buildings, or structures or parts thereof.
The Public Officer is hereby authorized to exercise such powers as may be necessary or convenient to carry out and effectuate the purposes and provisions of this chapter, including the following powers, in addition to other herein granted:
To investigate the building conditions in the borough in order to determine which buildings therein are unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use.
To administer oaths and affirmations, examine witnesses and receive evidence.
To enter upon premises for the purpose of making examinations, provided that such entries shall be made in such manner as to cause the least possible inconvenience to the persons in possession.
To appoint and fix the duties of such officers, agents and employees as he deems necessary to carry out the purposes of the ordinances.
To delegate any of his functions and powers to such officers and agents as he may designate.
The Public Officer may determine that a building is unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use if it is determined that conditions exist in such building which are dangerous or injurious to the health or safety of the occupants of such buildings, the occupants of neighboring buildings or other residents of the borough. Such conditions may include the following, without limiting the generality of the foregoing:
Defects therein increasing the hazards of fire, accident or other calamities.
Lack of adequate ventilation, light or sanitary facilities.
Disrepair and structural defects.
Failure to comply with the requirements of the Building Code or the certificate of occupancy.
Damage by fire, flood or any other cause which would render a building unfit or injurious to the health or safety of the occupants of such buildings or structures.
If an actual and immediate danger to life is posed by the threatened collapse of any fire damaged or other structurally unsafe building, the Public Officer may, after taking such measures as may be necessary to make such building temporarily safe, seek a judgement in summary proceedings for the demolition thereof.
The Public Officer, in reaching such determination, shall be guided by, among other things, the standards set by the Building Code, Zoning Ordinance and Health Ordinances of the borough and by the pertinent requirements of Titles 26 and 40 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes.
In the determination of unfit buildings and structures, the Public Officer shall consult with the Zoning Officer, Construction Official, Fire Inspector, Fire Official, Borough Engineer or such other officers and employees of the Borough as he deem necessary and appropriate.
Whenever a petition is filed with the Public Officer by a public authority or by at least five (5) residents of the borough charging that any building is unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use or whenever it appears to the Public Officer, on his own motion, that any building is unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use, the Public Officer shall, if his preliminary investigation discloses a basis for such charges, issue and cause to be served upon the owner of and parties in interest in such building a complaint stating the charges in that respect and containing a notice that a hearing will be held before the Public Officer, at a place therein fixed, not less than seven (7) days nor more than thirty (30) days after the serving of the complaint, that the owner and parties in interest shall be given the right to file an answer to the complaint and appear in person or otherwise and give testimony at the place and time fixed in the complaint and that the rules of evidence prevailing in the courts shall not be controlling in the hearings before the Public Officer.
Complaints or orders issued by the Public Officer pursuant to this chapter shall be served upon persons either personally or by registered mail, but if the whereabouts of such persons is unknown and the same cannot be ascertained by the Public Officer in the exercise of reasonable diligence and the Public Officer shall make an affidavit to that effect, then the serving of such complaint or order upon such persons may be made by publishing the same once in a newspaper printed and published in the borough or, in the absence of such newspaper, in one printed and published in the County and circulating in the borough in which the buildings are located. A copy of such complaint or order shall be posted in a conspicuous place on the premises affected by the complaint or order. A copy of such complaint or order shall be duly recorded or lodged for record with the Clerk of the County of Somerset.
If, after such notice and hearing, the Public Officer determines that the building under consideration is unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use, he shall state, in writing, his findings of fact in support of such determination and shall issue and cause to be served upon the owner thereof and parties in interest an order requiring the owner to make the repair, alteration or improvement of the building within a reasonable time, which time shall be set forth in the order, or at the option of the owner, to vacate or have the building vacated closed within the time set forth in the order.
If the building is in such a condition as to make it dangerous to the health and safety of persons on or near the premises and the owner fails to repair, alter or improve said building within the time specified in the order, then the owner shall be required to remove or demolish the building within a reasonable time as specified in the order of removal.
If the owner fails to comply with an order to repair, alter or improve or, at the option of the owner, to vacate and close the building, the Public Officer may cause such building to be repaired, altered or improved or to be vacated and closed, and the Public Officer may cause to be posted on the main entrance of any building so closed a placard with the following words: "This buildings is unfit for human habitation or occupancy or use. The use or occupation of this building is prohibited and unlawful."
If the owner fails to comply with an order to remove or demolish the building, the Public Officer may cause such building to be removed or demolished.
The amount of the cost of the filing of legal papers, expert witnesses' fees, search fees and advertising charges incurred in the course of any proceedings taken under this chapter determined in favor of the municipality and the cost of such repairs, alterations or improvements or vacating and closing or removal or demolition and any costs incurred for the relocation of the occupants of said buildings and structures shall be a lien against the real property upon which such costs were incurred. The detailed statement of the aforesaid costs shall be filed with the custodian of the records of tax liens, and a copy of the detailed statement shall be forthwith forwarded to the owner by registered mail. If the building is removed or demolished by the Public Officer, he shall sell the materials of such building and shall credit the proceeds of such sale against the cost of the removal or demolition, and any balance remaining shall be deposited in the Superior Court by the Public Officer, shall be secured in such manner as may be directed by such Court and shall be disbursed according to the order or judgment of the Court to the persons found to be entitled thereto by final order or judgment of such Court, provided, however, that nothing in this section shall be construed to impair or limit in any way the power of the borough to define and declare nuisances and to cause their removal or abatement, by summary proceedings or otherwise. Any owner or party in interest may, within thirty (30) days from the date of the filing of the lien certificate, proceed in a summary manner in the Superior Court to contest the reasonableness of the amount or the amount or the accuracy of the costs set forth in the municipal lien certificate.
In addition to assessing the costs set forth in Subsection A above as a municipal lien against the premises, the borough may enforce the payment of such assessment and costs, together with interest as a debt of the owner of the premises and may authorize the institution of an action at law for the collection thereof.
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to abrogate or impair the power of the borough or any officer or department to enforce any provisions of its charter or its ordinances or regulations, nor to prevent or punish violations thereof, and the power conferred by this chapter shall be in addition and supplemental to the powers conferred upon the borough by any other law or ordinance.