[HISTORY: Adopted by the Town Council of the Town of Westerly 1-28-2008 by Ch. No. 1628. Amendments noted where applicable.]095a Vacant and Abandoned Commercial Property
The purpose and intent of this chapter is to establish a registration program and enforcement mechanism to protect Westerly's neighborhoods and commercial areas from becoming blighted through the lack of adequate maintenance and/or security of abandoned and vacant commercial buildings.
The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this chapter, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section:
- A property that is vacant and is under a current notice of default and/or notice of trustee's sale, pending Tax Assessor's lien sale, and/or properties that have been the subject of a foreclosure sale where the title was retained by the beneficiary of a deed of trust involved in the foreclosure, and any properties transferred under a deed in lieu of foreclosure sale.
- COMMERCIAL BUILDING
- Any improved real property or portion thereof that is designated or permitted to be used for commercial, retail, business or professional purposes as defined in the Standard Zoning District Use Tables (§ 260-18). This includes any real property, whether or not it is legally permitted and/or zoned for such use.
- EVIDENCE OF VACANCY
- Any condition that on its own or combined with other conditions present would lead a reasonable person to believe that a property is vacant. Such conditions include but are not limited to overgrown and/or dead vegetation; accumulation of newspapers, circulars and/or flyers; disconnected utilities; accumulation of trash, junk and/or debris; broken or boarded up windows and/or doors; the absence of merchandise consistent with retail sales; and statements by neighbors or government employees that the property is vacant.
- Any person, copartnership, association, corporation or fiduciary having a legal or equitable title or any interest in any real property.
- Such measures as may be directed by the Director of Code Enforcement, or his or her designee, that assist in rendering the property inaccessible to unauthorized persons, including but not limited to the repairing of fences and walls, the chaining or padlocking of gates and doors, and the repair of windows and/or other openings.
- A building or structure that appears to be empty of furnishings and/or merchandise and not otherwise legally occupied.
Owners of commercial structures which meet the definition of "evidence of vacancy" or are deemed by the Town of Westerly to be vacant shall, within 30 days of the commencement of said vacancy, register the property with the Town on forms provided by the Code Enforcement Office.
The registration shall contain the property owner's name, address and pertinent contact information and that of a local property management company responsible for the security and maintenance of the property management company if it is necessary that one be retained under the provisions of § 95-5.
A fee of $100 shall accompany the registration form. This fee and registration shall be valid for the calendar year or remaining portion of the calendar year in which the registration was initially required. Subsequent registrations and fees are due January 1 of each year and must be received no later than January 31 of the year due. Registration fees shall not be prorated nor refunded if the structure is reoccupied during the calendar year.
This section shall also apply to properties that have been the subject of a foreclosure sale where the title has been transferred to the beneficiary of a deed of trust involved in the foreclosure and to any properties transferred under a deed in lieu of foreclosure sale.
Properties subject to this chapter shall remain under the annual registration requirement and the following maintenance and security standards of this chapter as long as they remain vacant. Any person, firm or corporation that has registered a property under this chapter must report any change of information contained in the registration within 15 days of the change.
Vacant and abandoned properties shall be kept free of weeds, dry brush, dead vegetation, trash, junk, debris, building materials, earth products, unregistered motor vehicles or vehicles being offered for sale, any accumulation of newspapers, circulars or flyers, discarded items, including but not limited to furniture, clothing, appliances or any other items, that give the appearance that the property is abandoned.
Existing landscaping in visible front and side yards shall be maintained to the standard at the time the structure was occupied. Landscaping includes, but is not limited to, grass, ground covers, bushes, shrubs, hedges or similar plantings, decorative rock or bark. Landscaping shall not include weeds, dead or overgrown vegetation, broken paving or curbing, decomposed plastic sheeting, or any similar material.
The property shall be maintained free of graffiti tagging or similar markings by prompt removal or painting over with an exterior-grade paint that matches the color of the structure.
Properties subject to this section shall be secured in a manner so as not to be accessible to unauthorized persons, including but not limited to the closure and locking of windows, doors (walk-through, sliding and garage), gates and any other opening of such size that it may allow a child to access the interior of a structure. Broken windows shall be secured by means of reglazing with undamaged glass or similar material.
If the property is owned by a corporation or out-of-area beneficiary, trustee or individual, a local property management company shall be contracted to perform weekly inspections to verify that all requirements of this chapter and any other applicable laws are being met. The property shall be posted with name and twenty-four-hour contact phone number of the local property management company. The posting shall be no less than 18 inches by 24 inches and shall be of a font that is legible from a distance of 45 feet and shall contain the words "THIS PROPERTY MANAGED BY" and "TO REPORT PROBLEMS OR CONCERNS CALL." The posting shall be secured to the exterior of the structure or placed in a location so it is visible from the street.
The local property management company shall inspect the property on a weekly basis to determine if the property is in compliance with the requirements of this chapter.
In addition to the enforcement remedies established herein, the Director of Code Enforcement or his or her designee shall have the authority to require the owner of any property affected by this section to implement additional maintenance and/or security measures, including but not limited to securing any/all door, window or other openings, installing security lighting, increasing on-site inspection frequency, employment of an on-site security guard or other measures as may be reasonably required to arrest the decline of the property.
The Director of Code Enforcement shall give notice by personal service or certified mail upon any party who is deemed in violation of this chapter, such notice to specify the nature of the violation, action necessary to correct it, and a compliance date. Upon notification of any violation of this chapter that has not been corrected by the compliance date, the Town Solicitor is authorized to initiate a legal proceeding to prevent, enjoin, abate or remove any violation.
A penalty shall be assessed for any violation of the terms of this chapter. The penalty for violation shall not exceed $500 per violation; each day such violation continues to be deemed a separate offense. Fines for violation shall inure to the Town.
The determination by a court of the invalidity of any section or sections of this chapter shall not affect the validity of the remainder of this chapter.