Some property owners are angry that Hamilton City Council is poised tonight to approve an ordinance that would charge owners of vacant houses up to $3,200 per year for buildings that have been empty five or more years.
Eric Vincent, president of the Butler County Real Estate Investors Association, says the legislation has taken him and others by surprise and will harm grieving families who have difficulty dealing with the emotional task of emptying the homes of deceased parents.
Vincent, of Fairfield Twp., said he and his five siblings had difficulty emptying out a farmhouse in Adams County after their father passed away. “When my father died, we didn’t do anything” for a long time, he said. “There were six of us.”
Aaron Hufford of City Manager Joshua Smith’s office, said that’s not the situation city staff wants to deal with.
Harming grieving families is something “we would never want to do,” Hufford said. In the ordinance, “there are a number of exemptions that apply, and I have to think that would qualify.”
“The fire chief really runs point on it,” Hufford said. “He could file an exemption” from the annual fees, which would start at $200 the first year, and double each year through the fifth: $200 for year one; $400 year two; $800 year three; $1,600 year four; and $3,200 year five and after, unless the fire chief grants an exemption.
The idea behind the registration of empty houses, like vacant commercial spaces, is so fire crews know which buildings are empty, and may be broken into by vandals or others, possibly creating a fire risk.
New Miami recently had one such death on North B Street, where a man was living in a vacant house filled with lawn mowers and motorcycles. The house lacked electricity, but the man, who had permission to live there, apparently was using power through an electric cord from a nearby property, a New Miami fire official told this media outlet.
City staff “did a big presentation — I think it was pre-COVID — because it was in-person, at the Butler County REIA meeting,” Hufford said. “They were out there a couple hours talking about the commercial and industrial vacant-property registration, which was a big step for us at the time.”
That meeting, Hufford conceded, was about vacant business properties, such as warehouses and office spaces whose owners would have to register, also with city fees as a way to spur owners to work harder to fill their commercial properties or sell them to others who would.
The legislation was discussed during a Sept. 26, 2020 Ordinance Review Commission meeting and received a first of two readings.
“The residential one is an amendment to that ordinance,” Hufford said. The city sent information to Karen Wessel of the organization on Nov. 3 “and asked for feedback.”
“Karen indicated that she would forward to the BCREIA members and ask for feedback on questions,” he wrote in an email responding to a claim that property owners weren’t given an opportunity to provide feedback.
“We have not heard anything from her since that time,” Hufford added.
Fire Chief Mark Mercer in a memo to council wrote that the city of 62,000 people “has approximately 1,500 abandoned or vacant residential buildings.”
“During the first year, registration fees will help to offset some of the General Fund costs of providing additional services to these properties,” Mercer’s memo added.
“I think this ordinance is not going to impact the investor as hard as it’s going to impact (adult) kids (of dying or deceased parents) — siblings who are trying to take care of Mom and Dad,” Vincent said. “I think they’re the ones that are going to be hurt the most. Yes, I don’t like it, but I think that’s the important thing.”
“Would they have passed some sort of change to restaurant inspections without talking to Richards Pizza or McDonald's?”
Vincent found it doubtful that they would have. “I think that’s the big answer.”