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City takes second look at vacant buildings ordinance

(South Salt Lake) It could soon be more difficult for owners of abandoned homes, buildings and development sites to leave their property unattended and in disrepair in South Salt Lake City.

Last October, the South Salt Lake City Council passed an ordinance that would impose a legal duty on owners to maintain and secure their properties. City officials are now working to close any loopholes in the law with a new ordinance that clarifies for owners their legal responsibilities under city municipal code.

“There are certain groups that have used building permits and extensions to their advantage by not completing the project to avoid meeting obligations. We want something that’s clear-cut and doesn’t leave a lot of gray area,” said South Salt Lake City Councilmember John Weaver.

South Salt Lake Assistant City Prosecutor Paul Roberts said that vacant and dilapidated buildings attract vagrants and the homeless. In many cases, the buildings also bring crime into a neighborhood because they provide a convenient place to sell drugs. Often, the buildings are blighted and vandalized, which also reduces property values in the surrounding neighborhood.

“The focus of this was to try and prevent these situations from happening,” Roberts said. “What the vacant building ordinance does is it specifically identifies these properties as properties that need to be secured. Because we’re not going to demolish all of these buildings -- a lot of them aren’t structurally unsound -- they just need to be secured.”

Roberts said that since October some property owners have misunderstood what the original ordinance requires. The latest ordinance, which was expected to voted on during the Aug. 26 council meeting, would clarify the process.

Owners would first receive a letter from the city notifying them that their property has been identified as needing to be in compliance with the ordinance. Roberts said an owner would then be expected to obtain a permit from the city and board up or secure their building. If an owner doesn’t comply with the law, legal action would be pursued by the city.

A permit from the city would cost $700 and last for one year. As a disincentive for owners to allow a property to remain neglected the renewal fee for the permit would increase to $1,200.

Roberts said since the original ordinance passed last fall city officials have been able to identify and go after blighted properties. He cited the demolition of the old Ward’s Market, formerly located at 2100 South 300 East, as an example of the success of the ordinance.

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