Town of Forest Heights, MD
Prince George's County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[Added 11-30-2011 by Ord. No. 17-11]
A. 
Purpose. The Mayor and Council find that a building or structure that is vacant has the potential of promoting neglect, waste and blight if not properly maintained by the owner, and furthermore a building or property should appear to the maximum extent possible as if it is occupied despite the contrary and avoid detracting from adjacent or nearby property values or otherwise should not become a financial burden to the Town. The purpose of this section is to protect the public health, safety and the general welfare of the citizens of the Town of Forest Heights and to assist the Town government in monitoring the number of vacant buildings in the Town, to assess the effects of the condition of those buildings on nearby residences and businesses, particularly in light of fire safety hazards and unlawful, temporary occupancy by transients or persons that may be engaged in criminal activities, and to promote the general appearance of the community and rehabilitation of such vacant buildings.
B. 
Definitions. A building or structure shall be considered "vacant" under this section whenever the building or structure remains unoccupied for a period of 60 days or whenever said building, structure or land thereof is both unoccupied for any period of time and has been cited for any violation of this Ordinance Code. A "building or structure" within the scope of this section shall mean a commercial building or dwelling unit intended to be regularly occupied by people for work, recreation, business or habitation.
C. 
Notice. Whenever the Code Enforcement Officer or a sworn police officer of the Town provides written notice to the owner of the existence of a vacant building or dwelling, the owner shall within 10 days of such notice register said structure with the Forest Heights Police Department. Should a violation already exist regarding the premises, said officer shall specify in the notice the existence of such violation or infraction. This registration and payment of any fee, as otherwise provided in this section, must be renewed at the end of a six-month period or sooner should title be conveyed to a new owner and should said structure remain a vacant building.
D. 
Citation. Should the owner fail to respond to such notice of vacancy by filing a registration statement and paying the registration fee or providing any other information or performing any task, duty or obligation required by this section, including submission of a vacant building plan, the Code Enforcement Office or a sworn police officer may issue a municipal infraction citation to the owner pursuant to Article 23 of this Ordinance Code. Should an owner fail to renew a vacant building registration, he shall be issued a municipal infraction citation for a violation of this section.
E. 
Other general requirements of vacant building owners. Vacant building owners shall have the following duties and obligations:
(1) 
Register and maintain their abandoned or vacant properties in accordance with this Article and all other applicable provisions of this Ordinance Code and any applicable state, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and county laws or regulations;
(2) 
If the owner of the property is a business entity and/or mortgagee, the owner shall contract with the owner's local agent to perform monthly or periodic inspections of the property in accordance with the applicable vacant building plan;
(3) 
Immediately inform the Police Department and the Code Enforcement Officer of any change in ownership or an action in foreclosure status consistent with Article 8 of this Ordinance Code;
(4) 
Adherence to this Article does not relieve the owner of any applicable obligations or duties set forth within any covenants, conditions and restrictions recorded in the land records;
(5) 
Maintain their abandoned property in a secure manner so as not to be accessible to unauthorized persons;
(6) 
Filling in, closing or otherwise securing any excavations, swimming pools or other hazards attractive to children;
(7) 
Repairing and securing broken windows, doors, fences, gates, and lights; and
(8) 
Complying with and performing any other reasonable requirements or tasks placed in the vacant building plan to achieve the purposes and requirements of this Article.
F. 
Statement of vacant building plan. At the time the building or structure is registered as required by this section, the owner shall submit to the Forest Heights Police Department a statement of plan. The plan shall include at least the following information:
(1) 
Name, address and telephone number of the owner;
(2) 
Name, address, and telephone number of any local agent or representative;
(3) 
Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all persons having any ownership interest in the building or premises, including any mortgagees;
(4) 
The common street address of the property and tax identification number;
(5) 
Date on which the building or structure became vacant;
(6) 
The length of time the owner expects the building to remain vacant;
(7) 
A grant of permission signed by the owner or his agent and plan of access of sufficient frequency to allow entry to the interior by the Code Enforcement Officer or a sworn police officer to ensure the premises is in good repair, structurally sound, sanitary and weatherproof;
(8) 
A vacant building plan statement including the proposed rehabilitation or improvements and maintenance to be made to the structure so as to make the structure safe, suitable and presentable for its intended use and a description of what will be done to secure the structure so that it will not become open to the general public. Said plan shall also include a schedule to address any existing infractions and to repair any doors, fences, windows or other openings which are boarded up or otherwise secured by any means other than conventional methods used in the design of the building or permitted for new construction;
(9) 
Whenever the owner proposes to demolish the vacant building, the owner shall include in said plan a time schedule for such demolition and obtain the necessary permit(s) as required by other law; and
(10) 
Any other information, duty or obligation deemed reasonable and necessary by the Town as is consistent with this Article.
G. 
Registration fees. If the registration is for a building designated as other than a single-family dwelling, it shall be accompanied by a filing fee of $500. If the building is designated as a single-family dwelling, it shall be accompanied by a filing fee of $250. Should the building or structure remain in compliance with this Ordinance Code and the vacant building plan after the initial six-month term of registration, the renewal fee shall be reduced to 50% of the initial fee. Any fees required by this section may be modified from time to time by written resolution of the Town Council.
H. 
Failure to submit or comply with plan; administrative review.
(1) 
Should the owner fail to submit a vacant building plan or comply therewith in a manner that is acceptable to the Code Enforcement Officer or the interim Code Enforcement Officer as required by this Article, such official shall develop or modify the plan and give notice of the plan to the vacant building owner or agent.
(2) 
The Code Enforcement Officer may place conditions in or add provisions to the plan consistent with this section or that mandate compliance with certain timelines to address any outstanding violations of this Ordinance Code or any other applicable county or state law, or regulation, whether previously cited or not.
(3) 
If the owner or agent objects to the plan made by said Code Enforcement Official, such owner or agent shall have the right of appeal to the Mayor, a hearing officer or other administrative body appointed by the Mayor with the consent of Council for a final determination. Such appeal shall be in writing, accompanied by a fee of $50 and personally delivered or sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the Code Enforcement Officer within 15 calendar days of the date of the Code Enforcement Officer's notice of modification or approval. If no appeal is filed in a timely manner, the plan as modified shall constitute the approved vacant building plan.
(4) 
Failure to comply with the vacant building plan shall constitute a violation of this section and subject the owner to a municipal infraction citation as provided in this section. In the event that the Code Enforcement Officer shall deem it fit to later modify the plan due to initially unforeseen circumstances that have become evident over time, the plan may be further amended after notice and an opportunity for review as provided in this subsection.
I. 
Inspections. In cases where the vacant building plan does not expressly grant permission to conduct an interior inspection or in the absence of an actual emergency that would permit a warrantless search, the owner of a vacant building shall permit inspection of the premises by the Code Enforcement Officer, a sworn police officer and/or fire officials to allow such officials to ascertain whether the building will support entry by police and fire personnel in cases of future emergency. Should a registered owner deny a request for access to a vacant building, the denial shall constitute revocation of any applicable registration and the owner shall be subject to a municipal infraction citation as provided in this section.
J. 
Placarding. The owner or agent of the registered vacant building shall place a Town-provided identification placard on the building's exterior as directed by the Chief of Police so as to be clearly visible from the front door area of the building. Such identification placard shall be kept in readable condition by the owner or agent and shall provide the following information: owner's name, local agent's name, if any, address, phone number, and expiration date of registration.
K. 
Other enforcement. The registration of a vacant building or structure shall not preclude action by the Town to force abatement, repair or maintenance of any building or structure, or to initiate condemnation and demolition of the building or structure pursuant to other provisions of this Ordinance Code or other law. The cost of these actions shall be paid for by the owner. The Town shall send the owner a bill for the costs of such work by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail to the owner's last known address or by any other means reasonably calculated to bring the bill to the owner's attention. Should the owner fail to pay the bill within one month after it is presented or mailed, the cost shall be considered a lien against the property and may be collected in the same manner as real property taxes. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the Town from seeking any other legal damages or equitable and declaratory relief to enforce this Ordinance Code in a court of general jurisdiction in this state.
[Added 11-30-2011 by Ord. No. 17-11]
A. 
Permit required. No person, firm, association or corporation shall erect, install, place, or maintain boards, or plywood over the doors, windows, or other openings of any building or structure or otherwise secure such openings by any means other than the conventional method used in the original construction and design of the building or structure without first obtaining a boarding permit from the Code Enforcement Officer.
B. 
Showing good cause for permit required.
(1) 
The Mayor and Council find that the preferred method of securing a building is from the interior or in a manner that does not readily give the appearance from a public right-of-way that the building or structure is vacant or abandoned.
(2) 
A boarding permit or renewed boarding permit may not be granted or renewed for any period except upon demonstration that good cause for the approval exists. "Good cause" shall require a showing by the owner or agent that the permit is made necessary by conditions or events beyond the owner's control, such as inability to obtain financing for repair or rehabilitation, inability to locate a suitable buyer, unanticipated delays in construction, rehabilitation, or demolition, or unanticipated damage to the property. In addition, where appropriate, "good cause" shall also require a showing by the owner that the owner has exercised reasonable and due diligence in attempting to complete the needed repair, rehabilitation or demolition or is attempting to sell the property.
(3) 
In the event that the Code Enforcement Officer determines that there exists good cause to issue or renew the permit and that all other conditions in this section are met, the permit may be issued for a period of up to, but not more than, six months, subject to renewal.
C. 
Exceptions.
(1) 
A boarding permit shall not be required in circumstances involving temporary emergency situations, including but not limited to damage caused by vandalism, fire, theft and extreme weather or hurricane preparation. A temporary boarding that exceeds 30 days shall require a boarding permit.
(2) 
Any properties with exterior boarding of windows and doors existing on the effective date of this section shall have six months to make application for a boarding permit pursuant to this section.
D. 
Fee. The fee for a boarding permit shall be $200 for a single-family dwelling and $400 for all other buildings or structures, except for small storage or other outbuildings which shall require a permit but no fee. The renewal fee shall be $100 for a single-family dwelling and $200 for all other applicable buildings. Any fees required by this section may be modified from time to time by written resolution of the Town Council.
E. 
Term. The boarding permit issued pursuant to this section shall authorize the boarding or other securing of a building or structure for an initial period of six months. If the structure or building remains boarded at the end of each such six-month period, the boarding permit may be renewed upon submission of a written application by the owner of the property, the authorized representative or contractor with the submission of the application and payment of the fee occurring no later than 15 days before the expiration of the original or preceding permit. Should the permit expire without a timely renewal, the owner shall obtain a new permit and pay the full initial fee.
F. 
Standards. Windows and exterior doors shall be boarded with exterior grade plywood of a minimum thickness of 5/8 inch. A minimum of two cross members shall be used on each window or door. All boarded openings shall be painted with a minimum of one coat of exterior paint, which color shall be compatible with the exterior color of the building or structure. The interior of the building shall be cleaned of all trash, junk, garbage, and debris, and all personal possessions shall be removed, so as to eliminate any fire or health hazard and prevent hindrance to firefighting equipment or to personnel in the event of fire.
G. 
Boarding without a permit or contrary to a valid permit. If a building or structure is boarded up or sealed without obtaining a permit, or in conflict with said permit and the standards contained herein, the Code Enforcement Officer shall notify the owner in writing to either obtain a proper permit, take corrective action or to remove the sealing material within 10 calendar days after the date of such notice, and upon failure to correctly install or remove the boarding or sealing within the specified time, the Town shall have the right to correct or remove all illegal boards and sealing material from all openings visible from any public right-of-way and to remove or abate unsanitary or flammable waste materials and to do such exterior maintenance as is necessary to bring the property into compliance. The costs of these actions shall be paid for by the owner. The Town shall send the owner a bill for the costs of such work by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail to the owner's last known address or by any other means reasonably calculated to bring the bill to the owner's attention. Should the owner fail to pay the bill within one month after it is presented or mailed, the costs shall be considered a lien against the property and may be collected in the same manner as real property taxes.
H. 
Administrative review. If the owner or agent objects to the determination or decision made by the Code Enforcement Officer, such owner or agent shall have the right of appeal to the Mayor, a hearing officer or other administrative body appointed by the Mayor with the consent of Council for a final determination. Such appeal shall be in writing, accompanied by a fee of $50 and personally delivered or sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the Code Enforcement Officer within 15 calendar days of the date of the Code Enforcement Officer's notice of denial. If no appeal is filed in a timely manner, the permit with any required conditions established by the Code Enforcement Officer shall constitute the approved permit.
I. 
Other relief. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the Town from seeking any other legal damages or declaratory and equitable relief permitted by law to enforce this Ordinance Code in a court of general jurisdiction in this state.
[Added 11-30-2011 by Ord. No. 17-11]
A. 
Definitions. As used in this section, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
LOT
An area of land designated as a separate parcel or unit of land on a legally recorded subdivision plat or deed filed among the land records of Prince George's County and assigned a property tax account identification number.
OWNER
The record property owner of the vacant lot, but does not include a governmental entity or an instrumentality or unit of a governmental entity.
VACANT LOT
A lot without a building or other valid and approved improvement which has an assessed value for taxation purposes as determined by the State of Maryland, Department of Assessments and Taxation.
B. 
Registration required.
(1) 
Owner to register annually. By July 1 of each year, beginning July 1, 2012, each owner of a vacant lot shall file a vacant lot registration statement with the Town on a form provided by the Mayor or his/her designee.
(2) 
Registration fee. The annual registration fee is $75 for each vacant lot, payable at the time of registration. Any fees required by this section may be modified from time to time by written resolution of the Town Council.
(3) 
Purchaser required to register upon acquisition. A new owner of a vacant lot must file a registration statement within 30 days of the acquisition and pay the annual registration fee, unless that fee was already paid by the prior owner.
C. 
Information required with registration.
(1) 
A description of the vacant lot by street address, property tax account identification number, and any other information required in order to accurately identify the vacant lot;
(2) 
The name, address, and telephone number of the property owner of record, and in addition, if the owner is a corporation, limited-liability company, limited-liability partnership, limited partnership, or other business entity, the name, address, and telephone number of the resident agent and, if the owner is a partnership or other entity not having a resident agent, the name, address, and telephone number of all partners, owners or officers of the owner or of an authorized agent of the owner;
(3) 
The name, address, and telephone number of the owner's authorized property management agent if an agent has been designated by the owner;
(4) 
A post office box does not suffice as an address for the purposes of the registration statement; and
(5) 
The Mayor or his/her designee shall be notified within 15 days of any change in the agent designated by the owner or any change in the address of the owner or agent.
D. 
Exception to vacant lot registration requirement. No registration of a vacant lot is required in the following circumstances:
(1) 
The vacant lot is zoned as residential and the owner occupies a residence on a lot contiguous to the vacant lot;
(2) 
The vacant lot is contiguous to a lot with an occupied building and both lots are under common ownership; or
(3) 
The vacant lot is being utilized as a parking lot in compliance with the County Zoning Ordinance and other applicable laws.
E. 
Other enforcement. The registration of a vacant lot or absence thereof shall not preclude action by the Town to force abatement, maintenance or removal of a public nuisance or other violation found on any vacant lot pursuant to any other provisions of this Ordinance Code or other law. The Town shall have the right to remove litter, trash, noxious weeds, tall grass, unsanitary or flammable waste materials and to do such other maintenance as is necessary to bring the property into compliance with this Ordinance Code. The cost of these actions shall be paid for by the owner. The Town shall send the owner a bill for the costs of such work by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail to the owner's last known address or by any other means reasonably calculated to bring the bill to the owner's attention. Should the owner fail to pay the bill within one month after it is presented or mailed, the costs shall be considered a lien against the property and may be collected in the same manner as real property taxes. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the Town from seeking any other legal damages or equitable and declaratory relief permitted by law to enforce this Ordinance Code in a court of general jurisdiction in this state.
[Added 11-30-2011 by Ord. No. 17-11]
A. 
If a vacant building plan or boarding permit is appealed or contested, the Mayor or his designee(s) shall specify a time and place for an administrative hearing on a vacant building plan or boarding permit and shall advise the owner, in writing, of the time and place of the hearing. Except as otherwise stated in this section and notwithstanding any other provision of this Ordinance Code, the hearing shall be conducted pursuant to the procedures found in Article 25 (Administrative Hearings) of this Ordinance Code.
B. 
Only appeals of vacant building plans and boarding permit denials resulting in a failure to show good cause or conditional approvals arising therefrom shall be heard on administrative appeal. Unless a vacant building plan or boarding permit also applies to the property in question, the mere registration or filing thereof of a vacant lot or any other controversy or enforcement matter arising from this Article shall not be subject to administrative appeal but shall be considered under the jurisdiction of the District Court of Maryland for Prince George's County for enforcement purposes.
C. 
In considering the appropriateness of a vacant building plan or boarding permit on appeal, the Mayor or his designee(s) serving as a hearing officer or administrative review body shall consider the following in making a final administrative decision:
(1) 
The public interest in minimizing the period of time a building or structure is vacant, boarded up, and/or has any defects which constitute public nuisances or code violations;
(2) 
The effect of the proposed plan or boarding of the subject building on adjoining properties and/or the neighborhood in which the building is located;
(3) 
The length of time the building has been vacant;
(4) 
Whether good cause is shown pertaining to a boarding permit;
(5) 
Whether the plan or granting the permit and any conditions thereto will minimize any adverse effects on adjoining property and promote the purposes of this Article; and
(6) 
Whether there is any practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship, financial or otherwise, to the owner connected with the performance of any act or duty required by the plan or permit.
D. 
After the hearing, the Mayor or his designee(s) shall render a decision in writing on the owner's or agent's appeal of the Code Enforcement Officer's approval, modifications or conditions made to the proposed vacant building plan or boarding permit. The Mayor or her designees serving as hearing officer(s) shall have the right to amend or place further conditions on the permit or fashion a revised vacant building plan, or to approve the plan submitted by the owner or agent, or otherwise approve or modify further the plan as modified or approved by the Code Enforcement Officer. The decision of the Mayor or her designated hearing officer or administrative body shall constitute the finally approved vacant building plan or boarding permit.
E. 
Should the Mayor or his designee(s) fail to hold a hearing within one month of the date of receipt of notice of appeal or fail to make written findings of fact and issue a final order within one month after the date of the hearing, the original notice, decision or order shall be treated as the final order of the Mayor or his designee(s) for the purposes of this Article, provided that, with the written consent or failure to affirmatively reply of the owner or agent who filed the notice of appeal, the time period for the Mayor or his designee(s) to hold a hearing or make findings of fact and issue a final order may be extended for up to two additional months.
F. 
Any applicant requesting approval of a vacant building plan or boarding permit aggrieved by a final order or decision of the Mayor or his designee(s) issued under Sections 3.7, and 3.8 of this Article[1] may file a petition for judicial review with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Prince George's County following the procedures for an appeal of an agency decision as governed by Title 7, Chapter 200 of the Maryland Rules, as amended.
[1]
Editor’s Note: This ordinance also renumbered former Sections 3.7 through 3.11 as Sections 3.8 through 3.12, respectively.
[Amended 5-2-2011 by Ord. No. 05-10; 11-30-2011 by Ord. No. 17-11]
A. 
Municipal infraction. The failure of an owner of a vacant building, structure or lot to file a registration statement or application when it is due or as otherwise required by this Article, to pay the registration fee, to provide all information required with registration or to otherwise observe the duties and requirements of this Article shall be a municipal infraction carrying a fine of $500. Each additional 30 days that a violation of Section 3.8, 3.9, or 3.10 exists shall be deemed a separate violation subject to an additional fine of $500. All other offenders found pursuant to Part I or Part II of this Article may be assessed a fine not to exceed $100 for an initial offense or $200 for each repeated offense.
[Amended 10-5-2015 by Ord. No. 07-15]
B. 
Lien on real property. All registration fees, when overdue, or any corrective action taken by the Town pursuant to this Article or by court order, and any penalties assessed hereto shall be considered a lien in favor of the Town on the applicable property and may be collected and enforced in the same manner as delinquent real property taxes.