Home Grown

Policy and governance

Vacant Property Ordinance

South Chicago Heights

Goal

To develop a tracking system for vacant properties and hold property owners accountable to Village maintenance standards.

Target

Property owners.

Financing

Registration fees, inspection fees and citations.

Successes

The framework of the ordinance has held owners accountable for the maintenance and upkeep of their properties.

Lessons learned

Documenting outcomes and keeping detailed records has been an important step in building relationships with the community and developing a successful program.

Background

Since April 2010, South Chicago Heights’ Vacant Property Ordinance has been used as an important tool to track and address vacant properties and foreclosures. Due to some of its limitations as a non-home rule municipality, the Village partnered with Ancel Glink, a law firm that specializes in working with local governments, to help research and write the ordinance. The ordinance has put a structure in place for the Village’s Buildings Department to keep accurate records of the number of foreclosures and vacant properties, as well as who is accountable for maintaining those properties.

How it works

Any person or entity having a legal or equitable interest in a vacant property is required to register the property. The annual registration fee is $200 and must be paid for every year that the building remains vacant. The owner must submit appropriate contact information, obtain liability insurance for as long as the building remains vacant, submit a vacant building plan, and secure and maintain the building in compliance with Village code. Posting signage outside of the building with the name, address and telephone number of the owner is required.

Building inspections for registered vacant properties occur at the time of sale when a property is transferred to ensure that they comply with Village codes. Property owners are required to pay a $500 inspection fee within 30 days of the inspection. The Buildings Department offers a high degree of flexibility for owners that need time to bring their properties up to code. If owners are not responsive, citations are issued up to $750 per violation per day. As a result of the strong relationships, the Village has cultivated with attorneys that represent banks, citations are issued to the bank in care of the attorneys for properties that are in foreclosure. In the case of non-compliant properties, the Public Works Department is dispatched to perform necessary maintenance services. Since South Chicago Heights is a non-home rule municipality— which mandates that they defer to county and state law on matters such as taxing, incurring debt and licensing— they are not able to lien for citations and are only able to lien properties for Village services. Though collection agencies can pursue property owners for citations owed, this leaves open the possibility that the Village will not be able to collect on the citations that have been issued.

The Village has adopted a dual philosophy to its code enforcement work; it is intentional about sending a serious message to owners, but also understands that enforcement is a balancing act. The Village is open to working with responsible parties who are acting in good faith and often realizes that taking a hard line approach is not the best solution in trying to stabilize properties and their surrounding neighborhoods. Though there is no formal structure in place, collaboration between the Buildings, Water, Police, Fire and Public Works Departments has been critical to the timely tracking and maintenance of vacant properties. Record keeping has been vital to the ongoing success of the program. The Buildings Department keeps detailed files that include records of citations, pictures of violations, and pertinent contact information to ensure that properties are maintained and do not fall back into disrepair.

Contact

Department of Buildings & Code Enforcement, Village of South Chicago Heights
708-755-1880, www.southchicagoheights.com

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