STOCKTON: Town can regulate property maintenance

Foreclosed properties are a worry

By John Tredrea, Special Writer
Stockton Borough Council voted Dec. 8 to renew its shared services agreement with Delaware Township on construction code services through 2015, Borough Clerk Michele Hovan said.
The agreement allows Stockton to avoid having a construction code office of its own. Delaware Township, a larger municipality, will continue performing construction code services for the borough. In exchange, Delaware Township will keep the construction code fees it collects in Stockton.
Stockton will have greater enforcement power over the maintenance of properties in town under an ordinance adopted by council at the Dec. 8 meeting.
Ms. Hovan said the ordinance, which the council worked on for several months, allows the borough to "exercise greater enforcement ability on the maintenance of properties that are in foreclosure." She said a key intent of the ordinance, which also covers property not in foreclosure, "is to give us a tool to work with banks and try to keep foreclosed properties in satisfactory condition."
The ordinance says it is unlawful for owners to allow their properties to become a "a public nuisance" and imposes penalties for failure to correct the problems.
Among the many types of "public nuisances" listed in the ordinance are properties:
Considered an "attractive nuisance" to children due to "abandoned wells, shafts, basements, excavations and unsafe fences or structures;"
Obviously capable of being a fire hazard;
Unsanitary or littered with rubbish or garbage or with an uncontrolled growth of weeds, and
Property in a state of dilapidation.
The proposed ordinance, copies of which are available at borough hall, also requires that all properties have grading and drainage facilities that prevent the accumulation of stagnant water, be kept free from rat infestation and discharge storm water from a roof in a manner that is not a public nuisance. Driveways and sidewalks must be kept in "a proper state of repair" under the proposed ordinance.
A property owner is given 30 days, from the date of a notice of violation from the borough zoning officer, to correct the violation. If the condition is considered an imminent threat to public safety, they’re given 10 days to correct it. If the offending condition is not corrected before the 30- or 10-day deadline is reached, the property owner can be fined from $50 to $500. The borough would have the option of imposing a separate fine on the owner for every day the violation exists.
The ordinance requires any creditor, which in most cases will be a bank, who has foreclosed on a residential property to follow all the requirements of the ordinance. Out-of-state creditors are required to appoint an in-state representative whose responsibility it would be to ensure proper maintenance of the properties.
Creditors whose foreclosed properties are in violation of the ordinance are subject to a fine of $1,500 for each day the violation exists. An out-of-state creditor who fails to appoint an in-state representative is subject to a fine of $2,500 for each day of the violation.
Also during its Dec. 8 meeting, the council voted to renew for another year its snow plowing contract with Suwsian’s Landscape, Ms. Hovan said.