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Trinidad builds first of its kind ordinance, takes on dilapidation: Innovative ideas put forth include “homesteading” for free homes

Innovative ideas put forth include “homesteading” for free homes

by Bill Knowles

TRINIDAD — Stating a necessity for the need of an anti-dilapidation ordinance, Trinidad City Manager Gabe Engeland told the World Journal in an interview last Wednesday, the condition of many of the city’s buildings are not only vacant but suffering from extensive dilapidation as well.

“Residential properties have not been maintained over time. Not only are they vacant, but they are also becoming blighted. They are becoming an eyesore and impacting public safety. A drive through the neighborhoods will show we have a pretty high percentage of vacant properties starting to go through the negative transformation downtown went through. They have the same issues but in neighborhoods they attract vagrancy, illegal activity.”

And it is the use of city resources to police those blighted properties that has focused the city’s attention on an enforceable ordinance that includes large fines for violation.

Engeland noted the idea of large fines gets not only the attention of individual property owners but banks and corporations as well.

The number of properties owned by banks and corporations within the city limits is unknown at the time. However Engeland said, of the 1,500 surveys sent out by the city to owners of property that may be abandoned, only 10 percent — 150 surveys — have been returned. The survey will confirm the number of buildings that are thought to be abandoned.

Forty-seven percent of the buildings downtown are vacant, but those vacancies rotate. There are some long-term vacancies downtown that will be handled under the new ordinance. But the list of long term residential vacancies that people weren’t aware of in Trinidad, is growing.

“We believe that a good portion will either be corporation owned or bank owned. There will be absentee landlord owned properties in there as well. There will also be a large group of people who have had properties willed to them or given to them or assigned to them, and they don’t live here and they don’t necessarily want it,” said Engeland.

One of the higher profile blighted properties in Trinidad is the Opera House, which Engeland hopes will become the poster child for how anti-dilapidation works. “What we are saying is, if you have a plan and are proceeding with that plan and you are on schedule then anti-dilapidation’s not going to touch you.”

This means if a property owner gets a notice stating the property is dilapidated, and they go to City Hall and show a plan exists for repairing the building and a timeline for those repairs, then the owner won’t get cited as long as they work on the plan they’ve provided.

A citation will be issued to property owners who have shown they aren’t interested in bringing the property up to code and aren’t working at alleviating any other problems associated with the abandoned property.

And if a property owner walks away from all responsibility, the city can lien the title to the property, or they can try to collect it like any other debt. With property owners gone and leaving blighted buildings behind, the city of Trinidad may have to turn to demolition.

However, the city has put $100,000 into its capital budget for 2016, to be used for demolition of abandoned properties. An example is houses that burned 10 years ago, which are still unrepaired and standing, can’t be saved, and must be demolished.

Another option the city of Trinidad is considering is a homesteading program. Even though the city is still working on the idea, it would look something like this: If a person moves into a house that is dilapidated and fixes it and brings it up to code over a specified period of time, they then will own the house free and clear. During that period of time, the city will rebate the property taxes back to the new owner. It is hoped that such a plan will not only reduce vacancy but also increase population. Another option being considered is working with private companies who will pay a portion of the demolition costs on properties the city acquires. In exchange, the private company will get the lot deeded to them free and clear, with the requirement that the company will have to put a new house on the property.

“We hope we don’t get too many properties and that home owners are responsible and hold themselves responsible to the City of Trinidad. We hope that not only millennials, but also retired people, will take advantage of the homestead idea. It’s hard to beat free.”

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