Despite Concerns from Oil City Main Street Program, Nuisance Abatement Ordinance Becomes Law

| July 12, 2019

OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – Despite concerns from Kathy Bailey and the Oil City Main Street Program, the Oil City Nuisance Abatement Ordinance became a law at the Thursday, July 11, 2019, Oil City Council meeting.

Bailey, representing the Oil City Main Street Program, first brought the program’s concerns about wording in the ordinance at the June 27, 2019 meeting when the ordinance passed the first two of its three needed readings to become law.

She gave Council members a letter stating their concerns, in addition to expressing their concerns at the June 27th meeting.

“The term abatement implies removal,” Bailey said. “We are trying to preserve historic structures if we can,” Bailey told the Council.

She said the ordinance could be a little clearer in its explanation of several terms and was also concerned about the 30-day notice period.

“We would like to see some additional contact with the property owners before the abatement period,” Bailey said in June. “In the case of property owned by an outside entity, it may take more than 30 days to come up with a plan.

“We would like to see a more proactive approach.”

Bailey again addressed the Council about those concerns at the July 11 meeting saying that the wording was still not clear pointing out the use of the word “reasonable.”

“What might be reasonable to one might not be to another,” Bailey explained.

Bailey said some of the wording could imply demolition of a historic property.

“That’s just a perception,” Councilman Ron Gustafson said. “I am not sure how the wording could be different.”

Bailey also said the explanation of how a citizen would submit a report wasn’t clear asking what the “process” would be.

“If the public sees something, they would report on it,” Gustafson said.

Bailey again expressed her concerns about the notification process asking if it could also be delivered by certified mail and told the Council she hoped the City could be proactive with building owners before it got to the point where abatement was necessary.

“It may sound like nitpicking,” Bailey said. “But issues like these could create problems in the future.”

City Manager Mark Schroyer said he and City Solicitor Robert Varsek, who was not at the July 11 meeting, had a long discussion about the Main Street Program’s concerns after Bailey brought the concerns to the Council in June.

“Robert believes (the ordinance) is in compliance with state law,” Schroyer said. “Like any ordinance, we can modify it if the need arises.”

Bailey thanked the Council for its consideration of the Main Street Program’s concerns.

“I appreciate your consideration of it,” Bailey said.


According to the ordinance, the need for the ordinance is because nuisance properties “present grave health, safety, welfare and financial concerns where the persons responsible for such properties have failed to take corrective action to abate the nuisance condition” and that “nuisance properties in the City of Oil City have a tremendous negative impact upon the quality of life, safety and health of the neighborhoods where they are located.”

A public nuisance is defined by the ordinance as one in which conduct or property, or the condition or use of the property, endangers the health or safety of, or causes hurt, harm, inconvenience, discomfort, damage or injury to, a person or property in the City by reason of the conduct or property or the condition of or use of the property being any of the following: (1) A menace, threat or hazard to the general health and safety of the community. (2) A fire hazard. (3) A building or structure that is unsafe for occupancy or use. (4) A property that is so inadequately or insufficiently maintained that it diminishes or depreciates the enjoyment and use of other property in the immediate vicinity to the extent that it is harmful to the community in which the property is situated.

According to the proposed ordinance, any “unauthorized accumulations of garbage and rubbish and the unauthorized storage of abandoned or junked automobiles or other vehicles on private or public property, and the carrying on of any offensive manufacture or business” would also fall under the definition of a “public nuisance.”

The ordinance would designate the Code Enforcement, Fire and Police Departments to report the existence of a possible public nuisance with the Code Enforcement Department “responsible for investigating all reports of possible public nuisances and administering and pursuing the nuisance abatement and civil penalty protocol established in the ordinance.”

As a part of that, the Code Enforcement Department would establish criteria for investigating reports to determine the existence of a public nuisance. In addition to the above-mentioned entities, members of the public, City employees or elected or appointed City officials could also submit a report for the Code Enforcement Department to investigate.

If a property involves a building that appears to be structurally unsafe, the City Code department or other designated official will then have the property inspected.

Once an investigation is complete, the Code Enforcement Department will be responsible for taking the following steps: (1) Determine if a public nuisance exists. (2) Determine if a public nuisance is “of such severe and substantial nature that it presents a clear, immediate and substantial danger to public health or safety of any occupant of a property on which a public nuisance exists or of any property in the vicinity of the public nuisance that is is sufficient to justify extraordinary and immediate action without prior notice to the owner of the property to avoid personal injury, death or substantial loss of property.”

If the Code Enforcement Department determines the existence of the criteria in No. 2 in the preceding paragraph AND the mayor of the City or the City Manager provides express authorization, then the Code Enforcement department shall have the authority to utilize summary abatement with abatement, in this case, being defined as “the removal, stoppage or destruction by any reasonable means of the cause of constitution of the public nuisance.”

Of that determination is made, then the Code Enforcement Department will have the right to enter the property for the purpose of abatement without prior notice to the property owner or to the lien holders on the property.

If a public nuisance is determined but it is determined that the nuisance doesn’t warrant summary abatement, the Code Enforcement Department will have the authority to abate the public nuisance with prior notice. That written notice can be served on the property owner in the following manners: (1) Personal Service. (2) Leaving a copy of the notice at the place of residence or business of the owner or the address shown in the City’s real estate registry or in the records in the office of the recorder of deeds.” (3) Mailing a copy by United States certified mail, return receipt requested, to the owner at the owner’s current address shown in the City’s real estate registry or in the records in the office of the recorder of deeds.”

If none of those methods are available, then the Code Enforcement Department can publish a notice in a newspaper of general circulation once a week for two consecutive weeks.

Once a property owner or lienholder has been notified that person(s) will have 30 days, unless otherwise extended, to abate the problem before the City will abate the problem and charge the owner or lienholder.

The ordinance also sets up an appeals process that will have appeals heard by City Council or a committee of three council members appointed by Council. Any appeal will suspend the period of time within which the nuisance is to be abated until a decision is rendered by the appeals board.

When work is done by the City and the owner or lienholder is charged, the owner or lienholder will have 20 days of the mailing of the notice to pay before a lien is put against the property on which the nuisance existed.

Property owners or lienholders can object in writing to the city’s cost determination, and the appeals board would the convene.

The ordinance, for citizen’s review, will be available in a number of places including on the City’s website, at the Oil City Library, in the Lobby of the City building at the City Clerk’s office.

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