ORDINANCE NO. 617

 AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF  WEEPING WATER, NEBRASKA, TO CREATE A POLICY TO IDENTIFY AND REGISTER VACANT BUILDINGS; TO ESTABLISH A PROCESS TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY SAFETY AND PROMOTE THE WELL BEING OF AREA BUSINESS; TO REPEAL ANY ORDINANCES OR PARTS OF ORDINANCES IN CONFLICT WITH THIS ORDINANCE; AND TO DECLARE AN EFFECTIVE DATE.

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF WEEPING WATER, NEBRASKA:

     SECTION 1.  PURPOSE

     The purpose of this article is to protect the public health, safety and welfare of Weeping Water by establishing a program for identification and registration of vacant commercial buildings, determining the responsibilities of owners of vacant commercial buildings and structures, and providing for administration, enforcement, and penalties.

     SECTION 2.  DEFINITIONS 

     Commercial activity means having the objective of supplying commodities (goods and services) and ancillary business functions.

     Commercial building means a building with more than fifty (50) percent of its floor space used for commercial activity.  For the purposes of this section, floor space shall be designated as the area on the main or street level of the building.

     Dangerous structure means a structure that is potentially hazardous to persons or property, including, but not limited to: (a) a structure that is in danger of partial or complete collapse; (b) a structure with any exterior parts that are loose or in danger of falling; or (c) a structure with any parts, such as floors, porches, railings, stairs, ramps, balconies or roofs, that are accessible and that are either collapsed, in danger of collapsing or unable to support the weight of normally imposed loads.

     Owner means the person, persons, or entity shown to be the owner of record on the records of the Cass County Register of Deeds, those identified as the owner or owners on a vacant building registration form, holder of an unrecorded contract for deed, a mortgage or vendor in possession, assignee of rents, receiver, executor, trustee, lessee, other person, firm or corporation in control of the freehold of the premises or lessor state therein.  Any such person, persons, or entity, shall have a joint and several obligation for compliance with the provisions of this article.

     Secured by other than normal means is to mean a building secured by means other than those used in the design of the building.

     Unoccupied means a building which is not being used for a legal occupancy.  The storage of products and materials does not constitute occupancy unless authorized by the zoning ordinance of the city.

     Unsecured means a building or portion of the building that is open to entry by unauthorized persons without the use of tools.

     Vacant building means a building or portion of a building that is:

(1) Unoccupied and secured;

(2) Unoccupied and unsecured;

(3) Unoccupied and secured by other than normal means;

(4) Unoccupied and a dangerous structure;

(5) Unoccupied and condemned;

(6) Unoccupied and has city code violations; or

(7) Condemned and illegally occupied.

     Vacant building does not mean any building being constructed pursuant to a valid permit issued pursuant to the city building code.

     SECTION 3.  VACANT BUILDING REGISTRATION

(a)  The owner shall register with the city not later than 30 days after the effective date of this ordinance or not later than 30 days after any commercial building in the city becomes a vacant building as defined in this article.  The owner of the building will be required to pay a forty-dollar ($40.00) fee at the time of registration.  This fee includes the initial inspection of the property by the city building inspector.

(b)  In the event that a vacant building is not registrered with the city within thirty (30) days of becoming vacant a two hundred fifty-dollar ($250.00) registration fee will be required.  This fee includes the initial inspection of the property by the city building inspector.

(c)  The registration shall be submitted on forms provided by the city.  The forms shall include a plan for the continued care and upkeep of the property acceptable to the city and a timetable for returning the building to appropriate occupancy or use and/or for demolition of the building and such other information deemed necessary by the city.

(d)  All applicable laws and codes shall be complied with by the owner.  The owner shall notify the city of any changes in information supplied as part of the vacant building registration within 30 days of the change.  If the plan or timetable for the vacant building is revised in any way, the revisions must meet the approval of the city.

(e)  The owner and any subsequent owners shall keep the building secured and safe and the building and grounds properly maintained until the rehabilitation or demolition has been completed.  The building shall not be used for storage.

(f)  Any new owner(s) shall register or re-register the vacant building with the city within thirty (30) days of any transfer of an ownership interest in a vacant building.  The new owner(s) shall comply with the approved plan and timetable submitted by the previous owner until any proposed changes are submitted and meet the approval of the city.

     SECTION 4.  VACANT BUILDING FEES  

(a)  The owner of a vacant building shall pay an annual fee for the period the building remains a vacant building.  The fee shall increase in the fourth year that the building is vacant at the following rate structure:

                     Years 1 through 3:        $1,000.00

                     Years 4 and beyond:     $2,000.00

(b)  The first annual fee shall be paid no later than thirty (30) days after the building becomes vacant for one (1) year.  If the fee is not paid within thirty (30) days of being due, the owner shall be in violation of this article.

(c)  The owner of a vacant building shall be required to pay the following initial registration and inspection fee:

        Initial registration within 30 days of vacancy: (includes initial inspection) $40.00

        Initial registration after 30 days of vacancy: (includes initial inspection) $250.00

(d)  Once the initial inspection is completed and code violations are noted, the following fees shall apply:

        Each subsequent inspection to correct noted code violations:  $50.00

        Failure to correct code violations within timetable per occurrence:  $250.00

(e)  The fees shall be paid in full prior to the issuance of any building permits, with the exception of a demolition permit.

(f)  Fees associated with this article shall be paid directly to the City of Weeping Water.  In the event that fees are unpaid, the city attorney shall institute appropriate action against the owner of the premises where the vacant structure is or was located for the recovery of such costs.

     SECTION 5.  EXEMPTIONS  

     (a)  A building that has suffered fire damage shall be exempt from the registration requirement for ninety (90) days after the date of the fire if the property owner submits a request for exemption in writing to the city.  This request shall include the following information supplied by the owner:

(1) A description of the premises;

(2) The names and addresses of the owner or owners;

(3) The names and addresses of the current/former tenant; and

(4) A statement of intent to repair and reoccupty the building in an expedient manner.

      (b)     A vacant building that is actively listed and offered for sale shall be exempt from the annual vacant building fee subject to the following conditions:

(1) The building is offered at a price not to exceed twenty-five (25) percent above the assessed value as documented by the Cass County Assessor's Office.

(2) The owner will be required to submit evidence of the assessed value of the building to the city and the asking price for the property thirty (30) days prior to the one-year anniversary of vacancy.

     (c)  A vacant building that is offered for rent shall be exempt from the annual vacant building fee subject to the following conditions:

(1) The amount of the rent requested is comparable to other commercial buildings in the commercial district of the vacant building.

(2) The owner of the vacant building is responsible to provide sufficient documentation to substantiate the request for exemption.

     SECTION 6.  INSPECTIONS

(a)  The city may inspect any premises in the city for the purposes of enforcing and assuring comliance with the provisions of this article.  Upon registration, the vacant building will be inspected by the city building inspector and a report will be provided to the owner noting code deficiencies, if any.  The owner will be required to make necessary repairs based upon a reasonable timetable to allow the property to become occupied.  Subsequent inspections will be made by the city building inspector to ensure that repairs have been completed.  Subsequent inspections will be billed to the owner based on the information contained in section 4.

(b)  Should a building remain vacant for twelve (12) consecutive months, an inspection shall occur.  An annual inspection shall be conducted on each twelve month anniversay of the vacancy.  The city reserves the right to inspect a vacant building at any reasonable time as conditions warrant.

(c)  The failure to correct the noted code deficiencies in a timely manner will result in a fee assessment noted in section 4.

     SECTION 7.  EMERGENCY REPAIRS

Where any unsafe building or structure poses an immediate danger to the health, safety, or general welfare of any person or persons, and the owner fails to remedy the situation in a reasonable time after notice by the building inspector to do so, the city may summarily repair such building or structure.

     SECTION 8.  COSTS OF EMERGENCY REPAIRS, HEARING AND APPEAL

(a)  Upon receiving the notice to repair the building, the owner of the building, within the time stipulated, may in writing to the city clerk request a hearing before the board of appeals, to present reasons why the building should not be repaired.  The board of appeals shall grant such hearing within ten (10) days from the date of receiving the request.

(b)  A written notice of the board of appeals decision following the hearing shall be sent to the property owner by certified mail.  If the board of appeals rejects the appeal, the owner shall have ten (10) days from the sending of the decision to begin repair.  If after the ten (10) day period the owner has not begun work, the city shall proceed to cause such work to be done; provided, the property owner may appeal such decision to the appropriate court for adjudication during which proceedings the decision of the city shall be stayed.

(c)  In case the owner of any building or structure shall fail, neglect, or refuse to comply with notice by, or on behalf of, the city to repair or rehabilitate a building or structure which is unsafe, the city may proceed with the work specified in the notice to the property owner.

(d)  A statement of the cost of such work, including the cost of advertising and publishing of notices, shall be transmitted to the city council, which is authorized to levy the costs as a special assessment against the land.  Such special assessments shall be a lien on the real estate and shall be collected in the manner provided for special assessments.

     SECTION 9.  PENALTIES

Any person violating any provision of this article or providing false information to the city shall be punished as provided in section 10.99 of this code.

     SECTION 10.  ALTERNATIVE PROCEDURES

Nothing in this article shall be deemed to abolish or impair existing remedies of the city authorized by this code.

     PASSED AND APPROVED this 14th day of July, 2014. 

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