Oil City Pushes Forward with Plans Nuisance Property Ordinance

| June 14, 2019

OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – The Oil City Council on Thursday, June 13, authorized the advertisement of a Nuisance Abatement ordinance in the city.

The ordinance will now be advertised and citizens will have the right to comment on it prior to it coming up for a first reading and vote (three reading and votes are needed for it to become law, although two can happen at the same meeting) at the June 27 council meeting set for 4:30 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of the City Building.

A full version of the ordinance can be requested at city hall, but some highlights are included below.

The beginning of the ordinance lays out the need for the ordinance saying that 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.”

The ordinance goes on to define a “public nuisance” 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 the city council or a committee of three council members appointed by the 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 lienholder can object in writing to the city’s cost determination, and the appeals board would the convene.


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