[HISTORY: Adopted by the City Council of the City of Lancaster 4-22-2014 by Ord. No. 4-2014. Amendments noted where applicable.]
This chapter is adopted to:
Assist the City of Lancaster in protecting the public health, safety and welfare;
Monitor the number of vacant buildings and structures in the City;
Assess the effects of the conditions of those buildings on nearby businesses, buildings, structures, properties and the neighborhoods in which they are located, particularly in light of the firesafety hazards and unlawful, temporary occupancy by transients, including illicit drug users and traffickers;
Require the owners of such vacant buildings and structures to register and pay related fees; and
Promote substantial efforts to rehabilitate such vacant buildings and structures.
The provisions of this chapter are in addition to and not in lieu of any and all other applicable provisions of the Codified Ordinances of the City of Lancaster and all relevant policies, procedures and/or regulations adopted pursuant thereto.
For the purposes of this chapter, where terms are not defined, such terms shall have ordinarily accepted meanings such as the context implies. The following words shall have the meanings respectively ascribed to them as follows:
- ABANDONED REAL PROPERTY
- Any real property located in the City, whether vacant or occupied, that is in default on a mortgage, has had a "lis pendens" action filed against it by the lender holding a mortgage on the property, is subject to an ongoing foreclosure action by the lender, is subject to an application for a tax deed or pending tax assessor's lien sale or sheriff's sale of real estate, or has been transferred to the lender under a deed in lieu of foreclosure. The designation of a property as "abandoned" shall remain in place until such time as the property is sold or transferred to a new owner, the foreclosure action has been dismissed, and any default on the mortgage has been cured.
- ACTIVELY MARKETING
- Unless considered as "abandoned real property" as defined above, an owner who, individually or through an agent, has placed a "for sale" or "for lease" sign on the property with accurate contact information, which is also provided to the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections, and has done at least one of the following:
- A building, structure or dwelling unit subject to the provisions of this chapter if in place of one or more exterior doors, other than storm door, or of one or more windows there is a sheet or sheets of plywood or similar material covering the space for such door or window.
- A mortgagee has initiated forbearance and/or foreclosure proceedings against the mortgagor.
- DWELLING UNIT
- A single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons, including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation.
- Any bank, mortgage company, lender, partnership, firm or corporation having a legal or equitable interest in the property; or is the entity noted in documents recorded in the official records of the state, county or municipality as holding title to the property; or otherwise having control of the property, including the holder of a mortgage, guardian of the estate of any such person, and the executor or administrator of the estate of such person if ordered to take possession of real property by a court.
- Written notice of a violation or requirement under this chapter mailed, pursuant to first-class mail, to the last known address of the owner of the property in question.
- Unless considered as "abandoned real property" as defined above, any building or structure where one or more persons actually conducts a lawful business or resides in all or any part of the building or structure as the legal business-occupant, or as the legal or equitable owner/occupant or tenant on a permanent, nontransient basis, or any combination of the same. For purposes of this chapter, evidence offered to prove that a building or structure is so occupied may include, but shall not be limited to, the regular receipt of delivery of regular mail through the U.S. Postal Service; proof of continual telephone, electric, gas, heating, water and sewer services; trash collection services; a valid City business license; or the most recent federal, state or City income tax statements indicating that the subject property is the official business or residence address of the person or business claiming occupancy; or current written leases indicating current occupancy of the property.
- A building or structure where any one or more exterior doors, other than a storm door, is broken, open and/or closed, but without a properly functioning lock to secure it, or if one or more windows are broken or not capable of being locked and secured from intrusion or any combination of the same.
- Any person, agent, operator, partnership, firm or corporation having a legal or equitable interest in the property; or is the person or entity noted in documents recorded in the official records of the state, county or municipality as holding title to the property; or otherwise having control of the property, including the guardian of the estate of any such person, and the executor or administrator of the estate of such person if ordered to take possession of real property by a court.
- PUBLIC NUISANCE
- A public nuisance is:
- A. Any building or structure which because of physical condition or use has been declared a public nuisance in accordance with the local housing, building, plumbing, fire and related codes.
- B. Any building or structure which because of physical condition, use or occupancy is considered an attractive nuisance to children or other unauthorized person.
- C. Any building or structure which because it is dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe, insect or vermin infested or lacking in the facilities and equipment required by the City of Lancaster Codified Ordinances has been designated by the City as a public nuisance.
- D. Any building or structure which is a fire hazard or is otherwise dangerous to the safety of person or property.
- E. Any building or structure from which water, plumbing, heating, sewage or other facilities have been disconnected, destroyed, removed or ineffective so that the property creates a hazard to neighboring properties.
- F. Any building or structure which by reason of neglect or lack of maintenance has become a place for accumulation of trash and debris or a haven for rodents and other vermin.
- G. Any building or structure which lacks an operable fire-protection system meeting the requirements of all applicable provisions of the Code of City of Lancaster.
- H. Any building or structure which as a result of its dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe, insect or infested condition creates a danger or a risk of danger to a neighboring property.
- Any building or structure that is not legally occupied and where the owner is not actively marketing the building or structure.
The requirements of this chapter shall be applicable to all abandoned real property and every vacant building and structure in the City of Lancaster where the owner is not actively marketing the building or structure and the building or structure is not boarded and each owner of any building, whether governmental, commercial, residential or institutional or owned by a nonprofit or a for-profit organization.
Registration shall be required for all abandoned real property and any vacant buildings and structures, whether vacant and secure, vacant and open, or vacant and boarded where the mortgagee or owner is not actively marketing the building or structure.
Any mortgagee who holds a mortgage on real property located within the City of Lancaster shall perform an inspection of the property to determine vacancy or occupancy, upon default by the mortgagor. The mortgagee shall, within 10 days of the inspection, register the property with the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections, or designee, on forms or website access provided by the City, and indicate whether the property is vacant or occupied. A separate registration is required for each property, whether it is found to be vacant or occupied.
If the property is occupied but remains in default, it shall be inspected by the mortgagee or his designee monthly until a) the mortgagor or other party remedies the default or b) it is found to be vacant or shows evidence of vacancy, at which time it is deemed abandoned, and the mortgagee shall, within 10 days of that inspection, update the property registration to a vacancy status on forms provided by the City.
Registration pursuant to this section shall contain the name of the mortgagee and the server, the direct mailing address of the mortgagee and the server, a direct contact name and telephone number for both parties, e-mail address for both parties, the PIN or tax number, and the name and twenty-four-hour contact phone number of the property management company responsible for the security and maintenance of the property.
All registration fees must be paid directly from the mortgagee, servicer, trustee, or owner. Third-party registration fees are not allowed without the consent, in writing, of the City and/or its authorized designees.
This section shall also apply to properties that have been the subject of a foreclosure sale where the title was transferred to the beneficiary of a mortgage involved in the foreclosure and any properties transferred under a deed in lieu of foreclosure/sale.
Properties subject to this section shall remain under the annual registration requirement and the inspection, security and maintenance standards of this chapter as long as they remain vacant, in default, or identified as a public nuisance.
Pursuant to any administrative or judicial finding and determination that any property is in violation of this chapter, the City may take the necessary action to ensure compliance with the chapter and place a lien on the property for the cost of the work performed to benefit the property and bring it into compliance with the chapter.
For purposes of this chapter, registration statements required under this section initially shall be due no later than September 1, 2014.
Each owner of a vacant property shall cause to be filed a notarized registration statement on a form prepared and provided by the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections of the City of Lancaster, which shall include but not be limited to the street address and parcel number of each vacant building, the names and addresses and telephone number of all owners, as hereinafter described, and any other information deemed necessary by the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections Office or Lancaster City Fire Bureau. The following information shall also be provided on or with the registration statement:
If the owner is a corporation, the registration statement shall provide the names and residence addresses of all officers and directors of the corporation and shall be accompanied by a copy of the most recent relevant filing with the Pennsylvania Department of State;
If the owner is an estate, the name and business address of the executor or administrator of the estate;
If the owner is a trust, the name and address of all trustees, grantors and beneficiaries;
If the owner is a partnership, the names and residence addresses of all partners with an interest of 10% or greater;
If the owner is another form of unincorporated association, the names and residence addresses of all principals with an interest of 10% or greater;
If the owner is an individual person, the name and residence address of that individual person.
The filing fee for the registration statement and, where applicable, other registration fees as required by this chapter shall be billed by the City of Lancaster for the subject year no later than November 15, or if November 15 falls on Saturday or Sunday, by the preceding Friday, of each year and shall be filed and paid by December 31.
For purposes of this chapter, registration statements required under this section initially shall be due on September 1, 2014.
If none of the persons listed as an owner, mortgagee, executor, administrator, trustee, or principal on the registration statement has an address in Lancaster County, the registration statement also shall provide the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of a person who resides within the County of Lancaster and who shall be designated by the owner as the responsible local agent who is authorized to accept service of process, notices, statements, invoices and other communications resulting from and/or relating to this chapter on behalf of the owners. The local agent shall be responsible for, including, but not limited to, providing City of Lancaster code officials with access to the building or structure for the purposes of making inspections, receiving notification in the event of an emergency affecting the public health, safety or welfare and for purposes of service of any and all notices or registration statements as herein authorized and in connection herewith. The owner and local agent shall be jointly and severally legally responsible for compliance with the City of Lancaster codes and Codified Ordinances and the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with regard to the registered property.
If the status of the registration information changes during the course of any calendar year, it is the responsibility of the mortgagee, owner and/or local agent to contact the Code Compliance and Inspections Office within 30 calendar days of the occurrence of such change and advise the office in writing of those changes. Failure of the mortgagee, owner and/or local agent to modify the registration form from time to time to reflect a change of circumstances as required by this chapter is a violation of the chapter and shall be subject to enforcement.
The mortgagee of abandoned real property or owner of vacant property as of November 1 of each calendar year shall be responsible for the filing of his/her registration statement and, where applicable, payment of the nonrefundable registration fee. Said fee shall be $100 per year, per building and structure which have not been declared a public nuisance by the City of Lancaster Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections, Bureau of Police or Bureau of Fire and the exterior of said building or structure is compliant with the applicable building, fire and property maintenance codes and ordinances of the City of Lancaster.
The annual fee for abandoned real property and a vacant building or structure that is a public nuisance or becomes non-code compliant on the exterior, which may be changed from time to time by resolution of City Council, shall be:
For buildings or structures that have been vacant for up to, but no more than, two years: $500.
For buildings or structures that have been vacant for at least two but no more than five years: $1,000.
For buildings or structures that have been vacant for at least five but no more than 10 years: $2,500; and
For buildings that have been vacant for 10 years or more: $5,000.
The fee shall increase by $1,000 for each year beyond the 10 years that the building has been vacant.
The fees set forth in this section may be changed from time to time by resolution of City Council.
A mortgagee or owner may appeal a determination of a public nuisance or exterior non-code compliant ruling to the Housing Code Board of Appeals by filing an application in writing and submitting the required fee no later than 10 business days after the date of the billing statement.
Except for those mortgagees and owners that have properly submitted an appeal as set forth herein, if the mortgagee or owner fails to pay the amount due within 30 calendar days, said amount shall constitute a debt due and owing to the City of Lancaster, and the City may either enter a lien on the property or turn it over to a collection agency for receipt as provided by law.
A one-time, one-year waiver of the annual registration fee may be granted by the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections upon application of the mortgagee or owner, and upon review and advice of the Solicitor's Office, within 10 business days of the date of the bill for the annual registration fee, if the mortgagee or owner:
Demonstrates with satisfactory proof to the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections or Bureau of Fire that he/she has submitted a valid architectural and renovation plan, based on the City's permits and planning application procedures and otherwise has shown good faith efforts to efficiently rehabilitate, demolish or otherwise substantially repair or improve said vacant building or structure; or
Properly secures the property from entry, removes all exterior hazards as determined by the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections or Fire Bureau (broken glass, loose building materials, etc.), maintains grass and weeds, and removes all trash on the exterior of the property. Failure to do any of the above will result in the full annual registration fee being due and payable immediately upon written notice from the City.
Within 30 days after the waiver application is received by the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections, and upon review by said bureau and upon the advice of the Solicitor's Office, the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections shall grant or deny the waiver in writing and dispatch the written decision by mail to the mortgagee or owner. If the mortgagee or owner properly submitted an application for a one-time waiver to the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections and that application were denied, the mortgagee or owner may seek an appeal by filing an appeal request to the Housing Board of Appeals, in writing, within 10 business days of receipt of the denial.
Annual inspections. An inspection of the registered abandoned real estate or vacant building may be performed by the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections annually or as necessary. If violations are identified, the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections shall issue a notice of violation as per the requirements of the City of Lancaster's Property Maintenance Code or Fire Code and give notice to the mortgagee or owner to comply with the codes with a reasonable time to cure. If the violations are not corrected within the time given, the property shall be declared a public nuisance in accordance with this chapter.
Complaint inspections. Nothing in this section shall preclude a City code official from performing an inspection upon receipt of a complaint of violation of any City ordinances.
Right of entry. Code officials are authorized to make inspections at any reasonable hour to determine compliance with the aforementioned codes. Every mortgagee, owner, local agent, or operator shall allow inspectors, officers or representatives of the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections or Fire Bureau unrestricted access.
Search warrant. If any mortgagee, owner, local agent or other person in charge of a building or structure subject to the provisions of this chapter refuses, impedes, inhibits, interferes with, restricts or obstructs entry and access to every part of the structure or premises where inspection authorized by this chapter is sought, the appropriate City code official may apply for an administrative search or inspection warrant to a court of competent jurisdiction and shall supply all necessary affidavits and testimony to indicate that there is a reasonable or probable cause to conduct such an inspection.
Notice. All notices scheduling an inspection shall be mailed via regular mail to the owner of record, with a copy mailed via regular mail to the local agent.
Failure to appear for inspection. If the mortgagee, owner or his/her local agent cannot be available at the proposed time, said mortgagee, owner or local agent shall provide no less than 24 hours' written notice to the Deputy Director, Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections. Upon failure to give such written notice or upon failure to gain entry, an administrative fee of $75 will be assessed against the owner. For each rescheduling beyond the second rescheduling, an administrative fee of $100 shall be assessed. Failure to pay the administrative fee shall, at the discretion of the City code official, constitute a violation of this chapter and/or the applicable City code. Failure of a mortgagee, owner or his/her local agent to appear for a scheduled inspection shall be considered probable cause for obtaining a search warrant to inspect the premises.
Special requested inspections. Whenever an owner, mortgagee, purchaser or other interested party requests a special inspection of a property regulated by this chapter, or a certification that a property is in compliance with this chapter or other applicable City ordinances pertaining to structural condition, if such request is made in connection with the sale, conveyance, transfer, financing or refinancing of such property, the requestor shall pay a fee of $200 to the City of Lancaster to defray the expenses of making such inspection, which fee may be changed from time to time by resolution of City Council.
Registration fees. The mortgagee or owner shall have the right to appeal the imposition of registration fees by reason of the property being vacant to the Housing Code Board of Appeals upon filing an appeal in writing to the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections no later than 10 business days after the date of the billing statement. On appeal, the mortgagee or owner shall bear the burden of providing satisfactory objective proof of occupancy.
Public nuisance and exterior non-code compliance. The mortgagee or owner shall have the right to appeal the determination that a building or structure is a public nuisance or the exterior is non-code compliant to the Housing Code Board of Appeals upon filing an appeal in writing to the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections no later than 10 business days after notification of said determination. On appeal, the mortgagee or owner shall bear the burden that the property is not a public nuisance and the exterior is code compliant.
Fees. The fee for filing of an appeal to Housing Code Board of Appeals shall be $100, which fee may be changed from time to time by resolution of City Council. Failure to submit the appropriate fee with the request for an appeal shall result in automatic denial of the appeal. In addition to said fee, the appellant shall be responsible for all costs incurred to conduct a hearing beyond that covered by the fee, including advertising and legal fees.
Administration and enforcement of this chapter shall remain under the control of the Bureau of Code Compliance and Inspections and the Lancaster City Bureau of Fire. The City of Lancaster retains the right to engage the services of a third party to administer any or all of the provisions of this chapter.
Violations. The failure or refusal for any reason of any mortgagee, owner, or local agent of an owner acting on behalf of the owner to file a registration statement, to pay any fees required to be paid pursuant to the provisions of this chapter, or to appear for an inspection shall constitute a violation. The violations shall be deemed a strict liability offense.
Prosecution of violations. The Chief Building Official and/or Bureau Chief of Code Compliance and Inspections or the Fire Marshal or their designee(s) shall have the authority to institute the appropriate proceedings at law or in equity, to correct or abate such violation of the provisions of this chapter or of the order or direction made pursuant thereto. Such authority shall include but not be limited to the institution of summary criminal proceedings via the issuance of a nontraffic citation in accord with the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedures in the court of appropriate jurisdiction.
Penalties. Any person who shall violate any provision of this chapter shall, upon conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000 for the first two continual and uncorrected failure or refusal to register, or for each failure or refusal to pay, and not exceeding $5,000 for the third and any subsequent continual and uncorrected failure or refusal to register or for each subsequent failure or refusal to pay, or imprisonment for any term not exceeding 90 days. Each day that a violation of this chapter continues, or each section of this chapter which shall be found to have been violated, shall constitute a separate offense.
Remediation of public nuisance. In addition to the fines as set forth above, the owner of the property can be required to immediately address and eliminate the public nuisance. Failure to do so within 15 business days of notification, weather permitting, will allow the City to proceed to hire a qualified contractor of its sole choosing to eliminate the public nuisance. The City shall bill the owner for said work, and payment will be due within 15 business days of the date of the invoice, or do the work itself. Failure of the owner to pay the City will constitute a debt due and owing to the City, and the City may either enter a lien on the property for the full amount invoiced, plus costs, or turn it over to a collection agency for receipt as provided by law.
In no instance shall the registration of abandoned real estate or a vacant building and the payment of registration fees be construed to exonerate the owner, local agent or other responsible party from responsibility for compliance with any other City of Lancaster code or ordinance.
The penalty, collection and lien provisions of this chapter shall be independent, non-mutually exclusive separate remedies, all of which shall be available to the City of Lancaster as may be deemed appropriate for carrying out the proposes of this chapter. The remedies and procedures provided in this chapter for violation hereof are not intended to supplant or replace to any degree the remedies and procedures available to the City of Lancaster in the case of a violation of any other City of Lancaster Code or Ordinance, whether or not such other code or ordinance is referenced in this chapter, and whether or not an ongoing violation of such other code or ordinance is cited as the underlying ground for a finding of a violation of this chapter.
Nothing in this chapter shall be meant or utilized to override or circumvent a property under consideration, review and in the process of rehabilitation by the City of Lancaster Property Reinvestment Board program. A property under agreement with the Lancaster Property Reinvestment Board or Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster to be rehabilitated shall continue to be required to register as abandoned real estate or a vacant building or structure pursuant to this chapter.