Ordinance No. 18-14

Introduced: March 26, 2018
Public Hearing: April 9, 2018
Status: Adopted

An Ordinance to Repeal and Replace the Code of the Township of Vernon, Chapter 130, “Abandoned Properties; Unfit Buildings”

WHEREAS, the Township of Vernon contains numerous structures that are vacant and abandoned in whole or large part; and

WHEREAS, in many cases the owners or other responsible parties of the structures are neglectful of them, are not maintaining or securing them to an adequate standard, or restoring them to productive use; and

WHEREAS, it has been established that vacant and abandoned structures cause severe harm to the health, safety and general welfare of the community, including diminution of neighboring property values, increased risk of fire, and potential increases in criminal activity and public health risk; and

WHEREAS, it is in the public interest for the Township of Vernon to establish minimum standards of accountability on the owners or other responsible parties of abandoned structures in order to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the residents of the Township of Vernon; and

WHEREAS, it is in the public interest for the Township of Vernon to impose a fee in conjunction with a registration ordinance for vacant and abandoned structures in light of the disproportionate costs imposed on the Township by the presence of these structures; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED by the Township Council of the Township of Vernon that Chapter 130 of the Municipal Code is amended and supplemented as follows:

SECTION 1. Chapter 130 “Abandoned Properties; Unfit Buildings” is repealed and replaced by the following:

Article I

REGISTRATION AND MAINTENANCE OF VACANT AND ABANDONED RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES AND VACANT AND ABANDONED RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES IN FORECLOSURE

§ 130-1. Definitions.

  1. “Creditor” means a State chartered bank, savings bank, savings and loan association or credit union, any person or entity required to be licensed under the provisions of the “New Jersey Residential Mortgage Act,” P.L. 2009, c.53 (C.17:11C-51 et seq.), any foreclosing entity subject to the provisions of C.46:10B-51 (P.L. 2008, c. 127, Sec. 17, as amended from time to time) and any entity acting on behalf of the creditor named in the debt obligation including, but not limited to, servicers.
  2. “Vacant and Abandoned” residential property means, consistent with section 1 of P.L. 2012, c.70 (C.2A:50-73), residential real estate, where a notice of violation has been issued pursuant to §130-5 (A) and subsection b. of section 1 of P.L. 2014, c.35 (C.40:48-2.12s), or property which any condition on its own or combined with other conditions present would lead a reasonable person to believe that the property is or has been vacant for three (3) or more months.

    Residential property shall further be deemed Vacant and Abandoned where a mortgaged property is not occupied by a mortgagor or tenant.

    Such evidence would include, but is not limited to, evidence of the existence of two (2) or more of the following conditions at the property:
    1. over grown or neglected vegetation;
    2. the accumulation of newspapers, circulars, flyers or mail on the property;
    3. disconnected gas, electric, or water utility services to the property;
    4. the accumulation of hazardous, noxious, or unhealthy substances or materials on the property;
    5. the accumulation of junk, litter, trash or debris on the property;
    6. the absence of window treatments such as blinds, curtains or shutters;
    7. the absence of furnishings and personal items;
    8. statements of neighbors, association management, delivery persons, or government employees indicating that the residence is vacant and abandoned;
    9. windows or entrances to the property that are boarded up or closed off or multiple window panes that are damaged, broken and unrepaired;
    10. doors to the property that are smashed through, broken off, unhinged, or continuously unlocked;
    11. a risk to the health, safety or welfare of the public, or any adjoining or adjacent property owners, exists due to acts of vandalism, loitering, criminal conduct, or the physical destruction or deterioration of the property
    12. an uncorrected violation of a municipal building, housing, or similar code during the preceding year, or an order by municipal authorities declaring the property to be unfit for occupancy and to remain vacant and unoccupied;
    13. the mortgagee or other authorized party has secured or winterized the property due to the property being deemed vacant and unprotected or in danger of freezing;
    14. a written statement issued by any mortgagor expressing the clear intent of all mortgagors to abandon the property;
    15. any other reasonable indicia of abandonment.
  3. “Owner” means the titleholder, any agent of the titleholder having authority to act with respect to the vacant property, or any other entity determined by the Township of Vernon to act with respect to the property.

§ 130-2. Registration of Vacant and Abandoned Properties.

  1. A Creditor filing a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a Vacant and Abandoned property, or a Creditor who has previously filed a summons and complaint to foreclose on a residential property which subsequently becomes Vacant and Abandoned, or the Owner of a Vacant and Abandoned property, shall within thirty (30) calendar days after the building becomes Vacant and Abandoned or within thirty (30) calendar days after assuming ownership of the Vacant and Abandoned property, whichever is later; or within ten (10) calendar days of receipt of notice from the Township, and annually thereafter, file a registration statement for such Vacant and Abandoned property with the municipal clerk on forms provided by the Township for such purposes. Any failure to receive notice from the Township shall not constitute grounds for failing to register the Vacant and Abandoned property.
  2. Each Vacant and Abandoned property having a separate block and lot number as designated in the official tax maps of the Township shall be registered separately.
  3. The registration statement shall include the name, street address, telephone number, and email address (if applicable) of a person twenty one (21) years or older, designated by the Creditor or the Owner as the authorized agent for receiving notices of code violations and for receiving process in any court proceeding or administrative enforcement proceeding on behalf of such Creditor in connection with the enforcement of any applicable code.
  4. The registration statement shall include the name, street address, telephone number, and email address (if applicable) of the firm and the actual name(s) of the Owner of the Vacant or Abandoned property or the firm’s individual principal(s) responsible for maintaining the Abandoned and Vacant property. The Owner or the individual or representative of the firm responsible for maintaining the Abandoned and Vacant property shall be available by telephone or in person on a twenty-four-hour per day, seven-day per week basis. The two entities may be the same or different persons. In the case of a Creditor, both entities shown on the statement must maintain offices in the State of New Jersey or reside within the State of New Jersey.
  5. The registration shall remain valid for one year from the date of registration except for the initial registration which shall be valid through December 31st of the year in which it was filed. The Owner of the property or the Creditor shall be required to renew the registration annually as long as the building remains Vacant and Abandoned and shall pay a registration or renewal fee in the amount prescribed in § 130-3 for each Vacant and Abandoned property registered.
  6. The annual renewal shall be completed by January 1st each year. The initial registration fee shall be pro-rated for registration statements received less than ten (10) months prior to that date.
  7. The Owner of the property or the Creditor shall notify the municipal clerk within thirty (30) calendar days of any change in the registration information by filing an amended registration statement on a form provided by the municipal clerk for such purpose.
  8. The registration statement shall be deemed prima facie proof of the statements therein contained in any administrative enforcement proceeding or court proceeding instituted by the Township against the Creditor.

§ 130-3. Fee Schedule.

The initial registration fee for each Vacant and Abandoned property under the provisions of this Article shall be five hundred ($500.00) dollars. The fee for the first annual renewal shall be one thousand five hundred ($1,500.00) dollars and the fee for the second annual renewal shall be three thousand ($3,000.00) dollars. The fee for any subsequent annual renewal beyond the second renewal shall be five thousand ($5,000.00) dollars.

§ 130-4. Responsibility for Vacant and Abandoned Properties.

  1. The Owner of the property or a Creditor filing a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a residential property within the Township shall be immediately responsible for the care, maintenance, security and upkeep of the exterior of the property, after the property becomes Vacant and Abandoned as defined in this Article.
  2. Where a Creditor is located out-of-state, the Creditor shall be responsible for appointing an in- State representative or agent to act on the Creditor’s behalf for the purpose of satisfying the requirements of § 130-4 (A). Notice of said representative or agent shall be provided to the municipal clerk pursuant to § 130-2 (C) and (D), and pursuant to paragraph (1) of subsection a. of section 17 of P.L.2008, c.127 (C.46:10B-51).

§ 130-5. Notice.

  1. The enforcement officers designated in this Article shall be authorized to issue a notice to the Owner of the property, or a Creditor that has filed a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a residential property within the Township, if the enforcement officer determines that the Owner of the property, or Creditor that has filed a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a residential property within the Township has violated this Article by failing to provide for the care, maintenance, security, and upkeep of the exterior of a Vacant and Abandoned property. Where a Creditor is an out-of-State Creditor, the notice shall be issued to the representative or agent that has been identified by the Creditor pursuant to § 130-4 (B) and paragraph (1) of subsection a. of section 17 of P.L.2008, c. 127 (C.46:10B-51).
  2. The notice referenced in § 130-5 (A) shall require the Owner or Creditor to correct the violation(s) within 30 days of receipt of the notice, or within 10 days of receipt of the notice if the violation presents an imminent threat to public health and safety.
  3. The issuance of a notice pursuant to § 130-5 (A) shall constitute proof that a residential property is Vacant and Abandoned for the purposes of this Article.

§ 130-6. Enforcement Officers.

The duty of administering and enforcing the provisions of this Article is conferred upon the construction official, zoning officer, housing officer, health officer, and any other duly appointed representatives.

§ 130-7. Violations and Penalties.

  1. The Owner of a property, or a Creditor subject to this Article that is found by the municipal court of the Township, or by any other court of competent jurisdiction, to be in violation of the requirement to correct a care, maintenance, security, or upkeep violation cited in a notice issued pursuant to this Article shall be subject to a fine of $1,500 for each day of the violation. Any fines imposed pursuant to this paragraph shall commence 31 days following the receipt of the notice, except if the violation presents an imminent risk to public health and safety, in which case any fines shall commence 11 days following receipt of the notice.
  2. An out-of-state Creditor subject to this Article that is found by the municipal court of the Township, or by any other court of competent jurisdiction, to be in violation of the requirement to appoint an in-State representative or agent pursuant to this Article shall be subject to a fine of $2,500 for each day of the violation. Any fines imposed on a Creditor for the failure to appoint an in-State representative or agent shall commence on the day after the 10-day period set forth in paragraph (1) of subsection a. of section 17 of P.L.2008, c. 127 (C.46:10B-51) for providing notice to the municipal clerk that a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a mortgage has been served.
  3. The Owner of a property, or a Creditor subject to this Article, that is found by the municipal court of the Township, or by any other court of competent jurisdiction, to be in violation of the requirement to register a Vacant and Abandoned property pursuant to § 130-2 shall be subject to a fine not exceeding two thousand ($2,000.00) dollars. Any fines imposed on a Creditor under this Paragraph shall commence 11 days following receipt of notice from the Township pursuant to § 130-2 (A).
  4. No less than 20 percent of any money collected by the Township pursuant to this Article shall be utilized by the Township for municipal code enforcement purposes and the remaining monies shall go to the Township’s general fund.
  5. Nothing in this Article is intended to nor shall be read to conflict or prevent the Township from taking action against buildings found to be unfit for human habitation or unsafe structures as provided in the applicable provisions of the Code of the Township and/or the Uniform Construction Code. Further, any action taken under any such Code provision other than the demolition of a structure shall not relieve the Owner from its obligation under this Article.

SECTION 2. Severability of Ordinance Provisions

Each section of this ordinance is an independent section, and the holding of any section or part thereof to be unconstitutional, void or ineffective for any cause shall not be deemed to affect the validity of constitutionality of any other sections or parts thereof.

SECTION 3. Conflict of Other Ordinance Provisions

That all ordinances and parts of ordinances and conflicts that are inconsistent with this ordinance are hereby repealed but only to the extent of such conflict or inconsistency.

SECTION 4. Effective Date of Ordinance Provisions

That this ordinance shall take effect upon final passage upon expiration of twenty (20) days following publication unless otherwise provided.