With a growing number of vacated houses popping up around town, the Ridgefield Board of Selectmen is considering enacting a municipal blight ordinance that would give the town more control over the maintenance of abandoned properties.
Such an ordinance would allow town workers to perform work on blighted properties — such as light landscaping and removing debris — so that their appearance does not drag down neighbors' property values.
The ordinance would also give the town the power to "bill" the property owner for the services provided. In the event the owner is unable to pay for the work, the town could place a lien on the property and recoup the maintenance costs when it is sold.
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi pointed out that the Connecticut General Assembly recently increased the fines for property owners who refuse to clean up blighted properties. Currently homeowners can be fined anywhere from $10 to $100 a day for violating local blight ordinances. The new law adds a fine of $250 a day for "willful violations."
In addition towns must now give property owners written notice of blight violations and an opportunity to remedy them before enforcement action is taken.
"We're trying to compile a list of the vacant properties around town — and we're finding it very hard to do so — because we do have some properties that have been walked away from," Marconi said. "The banks have not put them into foreclosure — but the grass has grown wild — and they're just sitting there, vacant."
Marconi said up until Sept. 2011 "forms had to be filed showing that the property had in fact been vacated by the mortgage company," however, "that stopped… and now they give you a new piece of paper that doesn't show if the house has been vacated."
Marconi said he is anecdotally aware of the increasing number of vacated properties from "people calling… saying 'there's this house, there's no one living in it, the grass is growing wild…'"
Marconi cited a recent study estimating the financial impact of a blighted property on neighboring houses. Every house that has a view of a vacated house that has been "completely let go" incurs an approximately $7,500 reduction in its market value, he said.
"So if you have five neighboring houses, it's five times $7,500," Marconi said. "Given the economy, given the revaluation, given the issues with home values, we should at least make an effort and look at this."
Marconi added that he would prefer to "call it a property maintenance ordinance, not a blight ordinance," and emphasized that it would only apply to abandoned properties.
Minutes show that the Board of Selectmen discussed the idea as far back as April 2009.