The city of Albany is hoping for better management of vacant deteriorating buildings.
For decades, vacant homes in the city have been off-limits to building inspectors except in a case of a dire emergency, like a facade or wall collapsing, or exterior trim falling from the structure. Albany maintains a Vacant Building Registry and questionable buildings that have been deemed unsafe are marked with a red X, which warns first responders it's too dangerous to enter.
10th ward Common Council member Owusu Anane says some of those buildings sat there as more time passed and dangerous conditions increased. "Vacant and abandoned properties are a huge quality of life issue, particularly here in the city of Albany. These buildings attract squatters, theft, drug activity, rodents, mold and more. Sometime when neglect goes on for a long time it ends up in emergency demolition."
Anane worked with Albany director of buildings and regulatory compliance Rick LaJoy to update the rules governing the two-year-old registry system. Their ordinance, which unanimoulsy passed, has three key changes. "The first one is interior inspection within seven days of registration, which is going to allow codes to go inside some of these properties, look if there is a structural problem to be addressed, inform the owner of that property so we can address it before it gets too late. The second thing we're going to do with this amendment is require proof that all utilities have been terminated. Electric, natural gas and water. When you look at some of the abandoned vacant properties, sometimes squatters are able to break into some of these properties, utilize the electric, and very too often we've seen instances of fire that have occurred because of activities that are going on inside of some of these abandoned vacant properties. So we're going to require all utilities to be shut off to prevent serious damages to these properties. The third thing we're going to do is require all winterization of the abandoned vacant properties."
LaJoy says changes include property owners granting annual access to city inspectors so they can visually assess interior conditions on a regular basis. The idea is problems like water damage or structural failure can be addressed immediately, avoiding emergency actions. "The owners have to cut all gas, water and power for the buildings, which help eliminate chances of squatters, and or accidental fires or you know things like that. The interior inspections will allow us, really is the big key part, which will allow us the ability to deal with any issue with the building before it becomes so bad that it ends up being an emergency demolition."
LaJoy adds "water infiltration," either from a leaky roof or broken pipes in a basement, is responsible for 90 percent of emergency demolitions in the city. Anane warns owners of unregistered vacant buildings they can be ordered to appear in court. "We have over a thousand abandoned vacant properties here in the city of Albany. 425 of those properties have red X's on them."
Anane says the County Land Bank often gets involved in helping refurbish some of the properties so they can be placed on the market.
The new building registry rules are expected to go into effect during August. The legislation has been sent to Mayor Kathy Sheehan's desk.