For property owners in Frederick who refuse to bring their properties up to code, the city is thinking of doubling or tripling its fine.
Mayor Randy McClement and the Board of Aldermen directed city staff Wednesday to draft changes to city code that would allow the city to double a fine for a property owner who has a second offense for the same violation on the same property in the same calendar year and to triple a fine for the property owner for a third offense, with the total not to exceed $1,000.
The change is one of the many recommendations that an advisory group made in 2012 as a way to fight blight in the city.
Fines for breaking city code range from $25 to $1,000, depending on the severity of the infraction. For all property code violations, from a broken window to a structurally unsound building, owners are given from 12 hours to two weeks to correct the violation before the city can fine them.
Alderman Michael O'Connor said that for certain serious violations, such as health and safety issues, he thinks the city should be able to assess a fine without a notice of violation.
"I want them to be able to take action immediately," O'Connor said.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak questioned why the city couldn't instead just use its existing ability to issue an additional fine on each consequent day that the original violation was not corrected.
City attorney Scott Waxter said that, while the city has used that method before, it complicates matters in court.
Alderman Phil Dacey asked if code enforcement officers would be able to issue an escalated fine for a violation before the first citation had been considered in court.
If the city held off on issuing the escalating fines until the court cases were complete, Dacey said, owners could use that as a tactic to delay any further fines.
"I err on the side of quicker action," he said.
Aldermen asked if the escalating fines would be used only in a new instance of the same offense on a property or if they could be applied to repeat violations on one property for different offenses. The intention was to increase the fines only for the same offense on the same property, according to city staff.
McClement said city staff will work through the questions and challenges of making changes to city code, and then bring a draft proposal to the board.
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