The boarded up windows and charred siding of 68 Joslin St. have been depressing sights to neighbors in the Olneyville section of Providence since the building was gutted by a fire last September.
The owner, who purchased the building out of foreclosure and whom the city cannot reach, has made no move to make repairs, adding the building to the list of derelict properties posing safety concerns and driving down property values in Providence’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Now, more than four years after the foreclosure crisis, the city is coming after absentee landlords and banks they blame for neglecting homes, like 68 Joslin, in Providence’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.
The city council and Mayor Angel Taveras have proposed the first “Foreclosed and Abandoned Property Registration, Security and Maintenance” ordinance in Rhode Island, which adds new teeth to local efforts to fix up so-called nuisance properties.
“It was something that was affecting my neighborhood,” said Ward 15 City Councilor Sabina Matos, a co-sponsor. “There are properties that have been in the process of foreclosure for years and, in the meantime, no one is keeping up the property, nobody is cutting the grass, thieves take the copper and it looks like the bank didn’t have anyone locally to pay attention. It just affected the quality of life and value of property in the area.”
The ordinance would force the owner of any residential property that has been vacant for three months and is not actively marketed for sale or lease, to register it with the city for a $500 fee.
If the building stays vacant for a second year, the fee rises to $1,000, and third and subsequent years bring annual fees of $2,500.
Failing to register an abandoned building brings a fine of $250 per day and the law gives city building inspectors the authority to identify homes and put them on the list if it becomes clear they have no occupants.
Once a building is registered, the owner faces fines of $1,000 per day if the home is not kept in decent condition, fully locked, free of pests, trash, debris and graffiti.
In addition to primary sponsors Matos and Ward 13 Councilor Bryan Principe, the ordinance was co-sponsored by the remaining 13 city councilors, giving it a strong likelihood of passage. The council is expected to be take up the ordinance when it meets in September.
Although this is the first such ordinance proposed in Rhode Island, there are 500 cities nationally with vacant-building ordinances of some kind, including several put in place in recent years in Massachusetts. Unlike the Providence proposal, many ordinances in other states include or are targeted at vacant commercial properties.