Law would require vacant properties to be registered

Staff Writer

JACKSON — An ongoing discussion about how to deal with abandoned and vacant properties has come one step closer to a resolution. On July 8, the Township Council introduced an ordinance that would, if adopted, require the registration of such properties.

Municipal officials estimate there are currently more than 100 properties in Jackson that can be listed as vacant or abandoned by their owners.

According to the proposed ordinance, which would create a municipal code chapter titled “Registration of Property Pending Foreclosure,” officials could soon have the ability to enforce the township’s property maintenance standards and the state housing code.

The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and possible vote for adoption at the council’s July 22 meeting.

Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said the ordinance is similar to a bill that was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year.

In discussing the topic, officials have said there was little they could do when it came to the maintenance of abandoned properties. They also said obtaining the contact information for whomever was responsible for the property was difficult to do.

If the ordinance is adopted, it will require that any creditor seeking to issue a foreclosure notice on a residential property to also notify the municipal clerk within 10 days.

In addition to the municipal notice requirement, creditors will have to provide municipalities with notice of any currently foreclosed properties within 60 days.

Generally, abandoned or foreclosed properties are owned by banks that take on the properties after homeowners can no longer pay their mortgage or loan, or choose not to make the payments.

Within that notice, the township will require that the bank supply contact information about the individual representing that property; whether or not the property is being foreclosed upon based on the Fair Housing Act; the street address, lot and block number of the property; and the contact information of someone in New Jersey who can accept service on behalf of the bank.

In the event that a home is abandoned by its owner after a foreclosure notice is presented and it is found to be in violation by the township, the bank will still be held accountable for that violation, according to the ordinance.

If a violation is not taken care of within 30 days, the township could take the bank to municipal court to address the issue.

Potential penalties as a result of court actions could include a maximum of 90 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,000 or 90 days of community service.

Part of the new chapter allows the municipality to send its own employees to “problem properties” to address code issues and conduct maintenance on an abandoned property.

In many cases, officials said, they are prohibited from authorizing the performance of maintenance work on an abandoned property because the municipality does not own the land.

Cipriani said the state bill is limited in how it can be used.

“This bill … does not apply to all vacant or abandoned homes as defined under the Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Act. It only applies to those properties that are vacant, in violation of a state or local housing code and in properties for which a creditor has filed a notice of intent to foreclose,” the attorney said.

As it stands, the unsafe structures law only covers properties that are found to have a certain level of damage, leaving the property unfit to be lived in.

Municipal officials in neighboring Howell and Plumsted have taken steps to address the issue through changes in local laws. In their versions, however, banks are required to also pay a fee when registering an abandoned or vacant property.

In Plumsted, for example, the owners of abandoned and/or foreclosed properties are required to pay a $250 registration fee when they acquire the property.

For the next three years, if the property owner is to seek a renewal, the cost would increase to $500 for the first year, $700 for the second year, and $1,000 for the third and subsequent years.

Jackson officials considered appending a similar fee structure to their proposed ordinance, but opted not to.