Vacant Building Regulations

ORDINANCE NUMBER 51.82.98 (Amended)

An introduction by Council Members Morris and McLaughlin


The City of Albany in Common Council convened does hereby ordain and enact:

Section 1. Chapter 133 of the Code of the City of Albany is hereby amended by adding a new Article XI-A to read as follows:

Article XI-A

Vacant Building Registry

Section 133-78.1. Legislative Findings and Purpose.

It is the finding of the Common Council that buildings which remain vacant, with access points boarded over, are unsightly, unsafe and have a negative effect on their surroundings.  This is particularly troublesome in residential and neighborhood commercial neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, many buildings, once boarded, remain that way for many years.  The purpose of this ordinance is to establish a program for identifying and registering vacant buildings; to determine the responsibilities of owners of vacant buildings and structures; and to speed the rehabilitation of the vacant properties.

Sec. 133-78.2. Definitions.

Unless otherwise expressly stated, the following terms shall for the purpose of this article, have the meanings indicated in this section.

A.  Enforcement Officer - A duly authorized representative of the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services.

B.  Owner - Those shown to be the owner or owners on the records of the City of Albany Department of Assessment and Taxation, those identified as the owner or owners on a vacant building registration form, a mortgagee in possession, a mortgagor in possession, assignee of rents, receiver, executor, trustee, lessee, other person, firm or corporation in control of the premises.  Any such person shall have a joint and several obligation for compliance with the provisions of this article.

C.  Secured by other than normal means - A building secured by means other than those used in the design of the building.

D.  Unoccupied - A building which is not being used for an occupancy authorized by the owner;

E.  Unsecured - A building or portion of a building which is open to entry by unauthorized persons without the use of tools or ladders.

F.  Vacant building - A building or portion of a building which is:

(1) Unoccupied and unsecured;

(2) Unoccupied and secured by other than normal means;

(3) Unoccupied and an unsafe building as determined by the Department of Fire,

Emergency and Building Services;

(4) Unoccupied and has multiple housing or building code violations;

(5) Illegally occupied;

(6) Unoccupied for a period of time over three hundred sixty-five (365) days and during which time the enforcement officer has issued an order to correct code violations.

133-78.3.  Vacant Building Registration.

A.  The owner shall register with The Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services not later than thirty (30) days after any building located in an area zoned for, or abutting an area zoned for, residential or neighborhood commercial use in the city becomes a vacant building, as defined in section 133-78.2 or not later than 30 days of being notified by the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services of the requirement to register.  The Department may identify vacant buildings through its routine inspection process as well as through notification by residents, neighborhood associations and other community groups that a building may be eligible for inclusion on the registry.

B.  The registration shall be submitted on forms provided by the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services and shall include the following information supplied by the owner:

(1) A description of the premises;

(2) The names and addresses of the owner or owners;

(3) If the owner does not reside in Albany County or any adjoining county, the name and address of any third party who the owner has entered into a contract or agreement with for property management;

(4) The names and addressees of all known lienholders and all other parties with an ownership interest in the building;

(5) A telephone number where a responsible party can be reached at all times during business and non-business hours; and

(6) A vacant building plan as described in Section C.

C.  The owner shall submit a vacant building plan which must meet the approval of the enforcement officer.  The plan, at a minimum, must contain information from one of the following three choices for the property:

(1) If the building is to be demolished, a demolition plan indicating the proposed time frame for demolition; or

(2) If the building is to remain vacant, a plan for the securing of the building in accordance with standards provided in Section 133.68.1 and 133.68.2, if applicable, along with the procedure that will be used to maintain the property in accordance with Article XI, and a statement of the reasons why the building will be left vacant; or

(3) If the building is to be returned to appropriate occupancy or use, a rehabilitation plan for the property.  The rehabilitation plan shall not exceed three hundred sixty five (365) days, unless the enforcement officer grants an extension upon receipt of a written statement from the owner detailing the reasons for the extension.  Any repairs, improvements or alterations to the property must comply with any applicable zoning, housing, historic preservation or building codes and must be secured in accordance with Sections 133.68, if applicable, during the rehabilitation.

D. The enforcement officer shall provide the owner with a written referral to the Department of Development and Planning for information outlining programs available which may be useful in developing the owner’s rehabilitation plan.

E. All applicable laws and codes shall be complied with by the owner.  The owner shall notify the enforcement officer of any changes in information supplied as part of the vacant building registration within thirty days of the change.  If the plan or timetable for the vacant building is revised in any way, the revisions must be in writing and must meet the approval of the enforcement officer.

F. The owner and subsequent owners shall keep the building secured and safe and the building and ground properly maintained as provided in Article XI of this chapter.

G. Failure of the owner or any subsequent owners to maintain the building and premises that result in remedial action taken by the city shall be grounds for revocation of the approved plan and shall be subject to any applicable penalties provided by the law.

H. The new owners shall register or re-register the vacant building with the enforcement officer within thirty days of any transfer of an ownership interest in a vacant building.  The new owners shall comply with the approved plan and timetable submitted by the previous owner until any proposed changes are submitted and meet the approval of the enforcement officer.

I. Vacant building fees:

(1) The owner of a vacant building shall pay an annual fee of two hundred ($200) dollars for the period the building remains a vacant building.  The fee shall be reasonably related to the administrative costs for registering and processing the vacant building owner registration form and for the costs of the city in monitoring the vacant building site.

(2) The first annual fee shall be paid no later than thirty days after the building becomes vacant.  If the fee is not paid within thirty days of being due, the owner shall be subject to prosecution as prescribed in section 133-80.  If a plan is extended beyond 365 days, subsequent annual fees shall be due on the anniversary date.

(3) The fee shall be paid in full prior to the issuance of any building permits, with the exception of a demolition permit.  The fee shall be prorated and a refund may be issued if the building is no longer deemed vacant under the provisions of this article within one hundred eighty (180) days of its registry.

(4) All delinquent fees shall be paid by the owner prior to any transfer of an ownership interest in any vacant building.  If the fees are not paid prior to any transfer, the new owner shall pay the annual fee no later than thirty days after the transfer of ownership and subsequent annual fees shall be due on the new anniversary date.

J.  The enforcement officer shall include in the file any property specific written statements from community organizations, other interested parties or citizens regarding the history, problems, status or blighting influence of a vacant building.

Section 133-78.4. Exemptions.

A building which has suffered fire damage or damage caused by extreme weather conditions shall be exempt from the registration requirement for a period of ninety days after the date of the fire or extreme weather event if the property owner submits a request for exemption in writing to the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services.  This request shall include the following information supplied by the owner:

(1) A description of the premises;

(2) The names and addresses of the owner or owners;

(3) A statement of intent to repair and reoccupy the building in an expedient manner, or the intent to demolish the building.

Section 133-78.5. Inspections.

The Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services shall inspect any premises in the city for the purpose of enforcing and assuring compliance with the provisions of this Article. Upon the request of the enforcement officer, an owner may provide access to all interior portions of an unoccupied building in order to permit a complete inspection.  Nothing contained herein, however, shall diminish the owner’s right to insist upon the procurement of a search warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction by the enforcement officer or his or her designee in order to enable such inspection and the enforcement officer shall be required to obtain a search warrant whenever an owner refuses to permit a warrantless inspection of the premises after having been advised of his or her constitutional right to refuse entry without same.

Section 133-78.6. Quarterly Reports.

Once every three months, the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services shall send to the Mayor and to the Common Council a list of all buildings in the city declared vacant under the provisions of this article, as well as a list of all previously declared vacant buildings which are no longer subject to the provisions of this article.

Section 133-78.7. Penalties.

Any person violating any provision of the Vacant Building Registry or providing false information to the enforcement officer shall be punished as provided by Section 133-80.

Section 2. Section 133-68 of Article XI of Chapter 133 of the Code of the City of Albany is hereby amended to read as follows:

Section 133-68. Exterior Protection.

A. Exterior walls, including foundations, shall be maintained so that ground- and surface water does not penetrate into basements, cellars or other interior wall areas.

B. Exterior doors, windows, skylights and similar openings shall be maintained weathertight.

C.  Exterior stairs, porches, entrance platforms, fire escapes and the railings thereon shall be maintained in a safe and sound condition.

D.  Roofs shall be maintained in a watertight condition.

E.  Exterior surfaces shall be maintained in good condition. Surfaces not inherently resistant to deterioration shall be treated with a protective coating of paint or other suitable preservative.

F. The covering for doors and windows may not consist of any substance sprayed onto the windows.  All enclosures shall be properly fitted and be of such material and surface that they are neither unsightly nor will materially detract from the general appearance of the building or the neighborhood and, when possible, secured by normal means.

G.  The covering for doors and windows may consist of:

(1) Venetian or similar blind;

(2) Drapes, curtains or shades;

(3) Decorative patterned paper, neatly installed with all seams straight and uniformly taped;

(4) Boards or similar materials finished and maintained in a manner recommended by the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services so as to blend in with the finish of the building;

(5) Coverings approved by the enforcement officer and when applicable by the Historic Resources Commission and the Planning Board.

H. Cracked or broken glass windows shall be replaced with glass.

I. In addition to the standards prescribed above, vacant commercial and retail buildings shall comply with the following standards:

(1) Any and all window display areas shall be kept clean, free of hazard and free of debris.

(2) All exterior signs, awnings and lighting systems, if not removed, shall be maintained in a completely operable, clean, sightly, nondeteriorated and safe condition.

(3) Any window covering shall have a clear opening of two square feet to allow a view of the interior of the store for security purposes.  Such opening shall be installed no lower than three feet above grade and no more than six feet above grade and may be in either the show window or the door.

J. If the owner shall fail to comply with the provisions of this section regarding exterior protection the Department of Fire, Emergency and Building Services may, after notice of non-compliance and intent to remedy is mailed to the owner, perform or cause such work to be performed and may recover the expense either by action or by local assessment on the premises or both.  This action shall be in addition to any other available remedy under this Article.

Section 3.  Article XI-A as it presently exists is hereby renumbered Article XI-B.  The sections comprising said Article are hereby renumbered 133-78.8 to 133-78.18, inclusive.

Section 4.  Savings clause.  In the event that this ordinance or any provisions of it shall be deemed by a court to be in conflict with a provision of the New York State Constitution or with a general law, or if adherence to or enforcement of any section of this ordinance shall be restrained by a court, the remaining provisions of this local law shall not be affected.

Section 5.  This ordinance shall take July 1, 2000.