WATERTOWN — City lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved a new law that would make owners accountable for their vacant buildings.
In April, City Manager Rick Finn proposed charging fees as a way to deal with vacant buildings that dot the city.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. said the new law will go a long way toward taking care of blight in city neighborhoods.
“We know who the offenders are,” Mayor Butler said. “We know where the buildings are.”
Councilman Ryan Henry Wilkinson said passage of the vacant building law “will put real teeth that we can use to go after offenders.”
Properties that are for sale or that are in compliance would not be involved in the program. As long as there are no violations, the city would not go after those properties.
Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero said residents didn’t fully understand the law. Some snowbirds had the misconception that they would be affected if they left the city and headed south for the winter.
She assured they would not be.
Under the registration program, the owner of a vacant building would pay a $50 fee upon registration no later than 30 days after it becomes vacant.
If the building remains vacant for more than 90 days, the city codes enforcement office would conduct inspections on the property and the owner would be assessed a $750 fee to pay for them.
If the property is rehabilitated or becomes occupied, there would be no registration and inspection fees.
If the owner ignores the registration program, the owner would be assessed a $500 penalty and face possible prosecution in Watertown City Court.
In recent years, city officials have been trying to figure out what to do about the city’s growing number of abandoned and deteriorating buildings.