ANNAPOLIS — A blight-fighting proposal that would allow governments to slap recalcitrant property owners with fines triple the amount of their tax bills came before lawmakers Wednesday for consideration.
Sen. Ron Young said his bill would give local governments another way to deal with run-down properties. It would authorize local governments to require property owners to spruce up their buildings or offer them for sale. If the owners fail to do either within a certain period of time, they would be liable to face heavy fines.
Local officials have other avenues for dealing with blight, but those can lead to lengthy court battles. Young said his bill might expedite the process.
“It’s a tool that would be helpful to a lot of governments,” he said. “There are a lot of blighted properties in towns where the towns because of court action ... have had a very difficult time getting anything done.”
Bank representatives testified against the proposal during a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing.
Kathleen Murphy, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Bankers Association, said the bill would affect banks that own foreclosed properties. One shortcoming of the proposal is that it doesn’t make a way for appeals, she said.
“There is no due process in this legislation,” she said. “What happens if we don’t agree with the fact that a property has been deemed a nuisance?”
The bill is unnecessary, she said, because local governments have established their own housing codes.
Moreover, the legislation does not provide an exemption for historical properties, noted Miriam Lehman, vice president of government affairs for the bankers association. She described one situation in which a bank took ownership of a foreclosed property with three run-down historical buildings.
The bank ran into trouble because no one wanted to buy the property, and repairing the structures would have come with hefty costs, she said.
Later, she said she wished Young’s bill allowed for demolition as a remedy to blighted buildings.
Young, who has submitted similar legislation in past years, said he worked with bank representatives last session to address their concerns.
“I don’t want to put undue pressure on banks. I would just like them to take care of the appearance of the buildings,” said Young, D-District 3.
During the hearing, Young noted that the city of Frederick has been dealing with some vacant properties. Last week, the city issued $10,000 in citations to the owners of the old Asiana restaurant, a vacant building on North Market Street. Young’s bill defines a blighted property as one that has been vacant for more than a year, has prompted nuisance complaints, doesn’t meet local housing code standards and has collapsing or failing exterior structures. Buildings damaged by fires or floods are exempted.
Upon notice from a local government, property owners would have 120 days to fix their buildings or six months to sell, under the legislation. Governments could grant deadline extensions on a case-by-case basis. However, if building owners do not make the necessary improvements, the government could impose fines of three times the property tax amount, according to the bill.
Young’s bill will now be considered by the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which will decide whether to bring it before the full Senate.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.