WATERTOWN — The fading plywood has covered most of the windows on a vacant home at 531 Bradley St. ever since its owner died several years ago.
The front and back steps are falling apart and several small trees have sprouted up in the backyard, a result of many months of neglect of the property. A large fallen tree covers most of the front yard.
Contending that a single house like that could ruin a neighborhood, City Manager Rick Finn wants to do something about vacant commercial and residential buildings.
He’s proposed a vacant building registry and inspection program for buildings he believes are unsightly, unsafe and have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Mr. Finn brought up the proposal during Tuesday night’s City Council work session, saying it would be a way to deal with neighborhood blight.
The proposed program would deal with foreclosures and be in addition to the city’s zombie homes program, Mr. Finn said.
“This is bigger than foreclosures,” he said. “We have to tackle the entire problem, not just a portion of the problem.”
The program would go after properties that are not in compliance and violate city codes, he said.
“We just don’t want to just identify a property. We want to keep an eye on it on a regular basis,” he said, adding that the city would then “monitor” it.
Joe Walsh, who lives three houses down from that deteriorating Bradley Street home, believes the city should do more with abandoned properties.
He still sees potential in reviving that Bradley Street home.
“I wish I could buy it and fix it up,” he said.
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, Mr. Finn said.
Under the registration program, the owner of the 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, then there would be no registration and inspection fee.
If the owner ignores the registration program, the owner would be assessed a $500 penalty and face possible prosecution in Watertown City Court.
It’s unclear how the program would solve the issue with the Bradley Street property, since it ended up in the city’s annual tax certificate auction in 2015 and 2017.
The situation is a little unusual because the owner’s daughter claimed her father left the home to her but his estate was never cleared up, the city assessor’s office said.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. likes the proposal, saying it has a punishment component that will make people improve their properties.
However, Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero expressed concerns about the proposal. She wondered whether the city could handle adding the program, since rental registration and zombie property programs have floundered.
The new program would have more of an impact than either of those programs because it would remove blight, Mr. Finn insisted.
Council members learned on Tuesday that a software problem for the zombie property program has been fixed and the program is doing well.