This year, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, enacted a classic vacant-property-registration ordinance. The rule gives owners 60 days to register vacant property at a fee of $75. Every year the fee escalates, by roughly $100. According to an article by the local paper, however, even though the town “has identified more than 100 buildings since it began tracking them in 2007,” there was “only one registration form … filed in September” (when the law officially went into effect).
The only comment on the article, as of right now, calls for small-town civil disobedience: “Good, and I hope everyone continues to refuse to comply with this ridiculous ordinance.” The commentator adds, “Hey Pottstown, instead of fining private property owners for not being able to sell/rent their properties, why don’t you try and fix the reason they’re unable to?”
I don’t know anything about Pottstown, but ordinances with escalating fees are best used when a city wants vacant properties demolished: the “shrink the city” solution. Sometimes it’s just not possible to use and restore all of a city’s vacant properties. I hope that local officials are aware of and intend to create the incentive to demolish caused by this type of ordinance. Cities with no escalating fees typically focus more on maintenance requirements, in the hope of preventing deteoriation in the housing stock until the local economy recovers.
Also, I hope that local code-enforcement officials recognize that the VPR program’s success is mostly in their hands; it’s unlikely that people will comply with the law without some sort of pressure to do so. I made this point in 2010: “No matter what type of provisions a local government enacts, the best solution to the difficulties involved with VPR ordinances is robust code enforcement, requiring motivated code enforcement officials and proper funding.”