[HISTORY: Adopted by the Township Committee of the Township of West Deptford 1-12-1995 by Ord. No. 94-23.]
Chapter 157, formerly reserved shall be enacted and may be cited as the Unfit Dwellings Ordinance of the Township of West Deptford.
The Township Committee of the Township of West Deptford finds that dwellings that are old, dilapidated or so out of repair as to be dangerous, unsafe, insanitary or otherwise unfit for human habitation pose a serious hazard to the health, safety, general welfare and the quality of the life of the citizens of West Deptford Township. As such a danger can be abated and the people have a right to and should be ensured a neighborhood free from any such dangers posed by unfit dwellings, it is the policy of the Township of West Deptford to ensure that such unfit dwellings do not remain erected so as to protect the health and welfare or safety of the citizens or degrade the quality of life.
This chapter shall apply to all dwellings that are classified as unfit for human habitation within the limits of the Township of West Deptford.
The following terms, whenever used or referred to in the chapter, shall have the following respective meanings for the purposes of this chapter, unless a different meaning clearly appears from the context:
- Any building or structure or part thereof, used and occupied for human habitation or intended to be so used, and includes any out houses and appurtenances belonging thereto or usually enjoyed therewith.
- The holder of the title in fee simple.
- PARTIES IN INTEREST
- All individuals, associations and corporations who have interest of record in a dwelling and any who are in possession thereof.
- PUBLIC AUTHORITY
- Any housing authority or any officer who is in charge of any department or branch of the government of the Township of West Deptford, County of Gloucester or State of New Jersey, relating to health, fire, building regulations or to their activities concerning dwellings in the Township of West Deptford.
- PUBLIC OFFICER
- The officer who is authorized by this chapter to exercise the powers prescribed for him.
For the administration and enforcement of this chapter, the Construction Official of the Township of West Deptford is hereby designated as the public officer, and he shall serve in such capacity without any additional salary or fees.
In addition to the powers herein granted to the public officer, he shall also have the following powers:
To investigate the dwelling conditions in the Township of West Deptford in order to determine which dwellings therein are unfit for human habitation.
To administer oaths, affirmations, examine witnesses and receive evidence.
To enter upon the 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 exercise such other and additional powers as are reasonably necessary and convenient to carry out and effectuate the purposes and provisions of this chapter.
Whenever it shall be found that there exists in the Township of West Deptford dwellings which are unfit for human habitation due to dilapidation, disrepair, structural defects, defects increasing the hazards of fire, accidents or other calamities, lack of adequate ventilation, light or sanitary facilities, or due to other conditions rendering such dwellings unsafe or unsanitary and dangerous and detrimental to the health or safety or otherwise inimical to the welfare of the residents, the public officer, hereinafter designated, shall upon the filing of a petition by a public authority or by at least five residents of the Township of West Deptford, charging that any dwelling is unfit for human habitation, or if it shall appear to the public officer (on his own motion) that any dwelling is unfit for human habitation, the said public officer shall make a preliminary investigation or cause such preliminary investigation to be made concerning the basis for such charges.
If a preliminary investigation shall disclose to the said public officer a basis for the charges filed, he shall issue and cause to be served upon the owner of and parties in interest in such dwelling a complaint stating the charges in that respect. The complaint shall also contain a notice that a hearing will be held before the public officer (or his designated agent) at a place therein fixed not less than seven days nor more than 30 days after the serving of said complaint.
The complaint shall state that the owner and parties in interest shall be given the right to file an answer to the complaint and to appear in person, by counsel or otherwise, and give testimony at the place and time fixed in the complaint.
The rules of evidence prevailing in the Courts shall not be controlling in hearings before the public officer.
When 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 as follows:
Requiring the repair, alteration or improvement of the said building to be made by the owner, within a period of not more than 90 days from the date of the order, or at the option of the owner to vacate or have the said building vacated and closed within 90 days from the date of the order; and 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 the said building within the 90 days from the date of the order, then the owner shall be required to remove or demolish said building within 120 days from the date of the order to repair, alter or improve.
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 as the case may be then the public officer may cause such building to be repaired, altered or improved, or to be vacated and closed. The public officer may cause to be posted on the main entrance of any building so closed, a placard with the following words: "This building 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 dwelling, the public officer may cause such dwelling to be removed or demolished or make contracts for the removal or demolition thereof after advertisement for, and receipt of, bids therefor.
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 proceeding taken under this chapter determines in favor of the municipality, and the amount of the cost of such repairs, improvements, alterations or improvements, or vacating or closing, or removal or demolition, by the public officer or if the amount of the balance thereof remaining after deduction of the sum, if any, realized from the sale of materials derived from such buildings or from any contract for removal or demolition thereof, shall be a municipal lien against the real property upon which such cost was incurred. If the building is removed or demolished by the public officer, he shall sell the materials of such building. There shall be credited against the cost of the removal or the demolition thereof, including the clearance and, if necessary, leveling of the site, the proceeds of any sale of such materials or any sum derived from any contract for the removal or demolition of the building. If there are no such credits or if the sum total of such costs exceeds the total of such credits, a detailed statement of the aforesaid costs and the amount so due shall be filed with the Municipal Tax Assessor or other custodian of the records of tax of liens and a copy thereof shall be forthwith forwarded to the owner by registered mail. If the total of the credits exceeds such costs the 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. Any owner or party in interest may within 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 accuracy of the cost set forth in the Municipal Lien Certificate.
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 person or persons is unknown and the same cannot be ascertained by the public officer in the exercise of reasonable diligence then 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 municipality, or, in the absence of such newspaper, in one printed and published in the county and circulating in the municipality in which the buildings are located. A copy of such complaint or order shall be posted in a conspicuous place on premises affected by the complaint or order. A copy of such complaint or order shall be duly recorded or lodged for record with the County Clerk of Gloucester County.
The remedies herein provided shall be exclusive remedies and no person affected by an order of the public officer shall be entitled to recover any damages for action taken pursuant to any order of the public officer, or because of noncompliance by such person with any order of the public officer.
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 judgment in summary proceedings for the demolition thereof.
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to abrogate or impair the powers of the Courts or of any township department to enforce any provisions of the Township Charter or its ordinances or regulations, nor to prevent or punish violations thereof; and the powers conferred by this chapter shall be in addition and supplemented to the powers conferred by any other law or chapter.