Vacant Property Registration

Vacant Property Registration

A vacant property registry is a program that municipalities in West Virginia can establish to require all owners of vacant buildings and properties to register their properties and pay an annual registration fee.

Vacant properties are defined in the West Virginia Code as “property on which no building is erected and no routine activity occurs.” 1 Vacant buildings are defined as “unoccupied, or unsecured and occupied by one or more unauthorized persons.” 2 A municipality can assess a registration fee for both vacant properties and vacant buildings.

A new building, while under construction, is not subject to a vacant property registration fee. 3 In addition, a municipality should include a good-faith provision that exempts property owners who are actively trying to sell or renovate their property from paying an annual vacant property registration fee.

Prerequisites

Municipalities. These programs may only be implemented by municipalities, not counties. 4

Advantages

  • Incentivizes renovating properties/buildings to avoid paying annual registration fees
  • Fees collected through a local vacant property registration program must be used to improve public safety and to monitor and administer the registration program 5
  • A registration program creates an up-to-date list of vacant buildings “for police and fire personnel, who most often contend with the dangerous situations manifested in vacant buildings” 6

Disadvantages

  • A municipality may need to go to court or file a lien to collect unpaid vacant property registration fees
  • Requires time and resources to enforce a vacant property registration program

Funding

The West Virginia Code requires that fees received under a vacant property registration program, in part, be “used to monitor and administer” the program. 7

The fee schedule for a registration program is set by a municipality’s governing body. Many communities have implemented a tiered fee schedule that determines fees based on how many years a property has been on the registry.

The City of Wheeling does not assess a registration fee for a property during its first year on the registry. 7 If the property is on the registry for a second year, the fee is $500. The third year, the fee increases to $1,000. The annual registration fee increases each year until the fifth year, when the fee is $4,000. After the fifth year, the fee is $4,000, plus $300 for each additional year. 8

Usage in West Virginia

Since 2010, when all municipalities in West Virginia were permitted to create vacant property registration programs, the results have been mostly positive. Many communities are reporting that properties are either being sold or renovated by property owners to avoid paying annual registration fees.

Low-Income Exception

The West Virginia State Code states that “the governing body of a municipality, on a case-by-case basis, upon request by the property owner, shall exempt a vacant building from registration upon a finding for good cause shown that the person will be unable to occupy the building for a determinant period of time.” 10 This section of the West Virginia Code does not outline a specific exception for low-income property owners, however, a governing body may take financial status into consideration when deciding whether to exempt a property from the vacant property registry.

Notification Requirements & Special Procedures

The West Virginia Code outlines procedures for the administration and enforcement of a vacant property registration program and the collection of registration fees. 11 A municipality may require vacant property owners who live out-of-state to provide the name and address of a person who lives in-state to represent them in regards to the vacant property. 12

A municipality must give notice to the property owner or authorized agent before a lien is filed for any unpaid or delinquent vacant property registration fees. 13 Notice should be given by certified mail with return receipt. The property owner has at least 30 days from receipt of the notice before a lien may be filed to collect registration fees. 14 Note that municipalities may provide for alternative means of service when service cannot be obtained by certified mail. 15

When creating a vacant property registration program, municipalities must include in their ordinances the right to appeal to the circuit court of the county in which the property is located. 16

In crafting the City of Wheeling’s vacant structure ordinance, which requires registration and includes fees with lien and collection procedures, the governing body took such action after determining that uninspected and unmonitored vacant buildings may present fire hazards; provide temporary occupancy to transients, drug dealers, and traffickers; may detract from public and/or private efforts to rehabilitate or maintain surrounding buildings; and that the health, safety, and welfare of the public is served by regulation of such vacant structures. The program in Wheeling is a successful and useful tool for the City and citizens of the municipality.

- Rosemary Humway-Warmuth, City Solicitor, City of Wheeling

Community Highlights

Summersville
The City of Summersville created a vacant property registration program in March 2014. The City initially registered 32 vacant structures. 17 Property owners of 25 structures achieved compliance during their first year on the registry and did not pay any registration fees. 18 However, the property owners of the 7 remaining structures were required to pay a vacant property registration fee after their first year on the registry. 19

Wheeling
In 2009, Wheeling became the first city in West Virginia to create a vacant property registration program through the state’s Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. 20 Since its inception, Wheeling’s vacant property registration program has been an effective means of addressing neglected properties and a source of revenue. By 2012, Wheeling had registered 155 properties, demolished 19 buildings, and generated $15,800 in registration fees. 21 Wheeling’s success prompted the West Virginia Legislature to grant all municipalities in the state the authority to create similar programs. 22


  1. W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-12-16c(b)(3) (West 2015).
  2. Id. § 8-12-16c(b)(2).
  3. Id.
  4. Id. § 8-12-16c(a).
  5. Id. § 8-12-16c(h).
  6. Id.
  7. Id.
  8. See, e.g., City of Wheeling Econ. and Cmty Dev. Dep’t, Vacant Building Registration Form, available at http://www.wheelingwv.gov/uploads/09-01-11_uv_ VacantBuildingReg(notary).pdf.
  9. Id.
  10. W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-12-16c(b)(2) (West).
  11. Id. § 8-12-16c(c).
  12. Id. § 8-12-16c(d).
  13. Id. § 8-12-16c(e).
  14. Id.
  15. Id.
  16. Id. § 8-12-16c(g).
  17. Email from Ashley Carr, Code Enforcement Officer, City of Summersville, West Virginia, to Jared Anderson, Supporting Land Use Attorney, Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic (June 17, 2015 10:23 AM) (on file with LUSD Law Clinic).
  18. Id.
  19. Id.
  20. W. Va. Legistative Auditor, Performance Evaluation and Research Div., Special Report: Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program 14 (2012), available at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/joint/ perd/perdrep/HomeRule_11_2012.pdf.
  21. Id.
  22. Id. at 15; W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-12-16c (West 2015).
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