Fundamental Tools

This Part introduces fundamental tools that are effectively being used in West Virginia to combat problem properties, before and after they become a problem. First, maintaining properties is more cost effective than addressing a property that has already become dilapidated. To this end, this Part introduces legal and non-legal strategies used to prevent properties from falling into disrepair.

Once a property has fallen into disrepair, the most commonly used method to regulate the condition of property is the building code. For communities that have adopted the building code and that are authorized home rule communities, on-site citations can be utilized to expedite existing enforcement programs. Communities can also implement vacant or uninhabitable property registration programs to monitor properties in an organized way. Finally, public shaming has been used to effectively prevent properties from remaining in a long-term state of neglect.

Although preventing neglected properties from appearing in the first place would be ideal, some inevitably slip through the cracks. Properties may be abandoned, out-of-town owners may be difficult to reach, some owners may be struggling financially, and a small minority of owners simply do not care. When it becomes necessary, the process of local governments repairing properties and recovering costs does not necessarily follow a strict formula. Local officials in West Virginia have repeatedly noted that most property owners will take care of repairs themselves if problems are brought to their attention or if they think legal action might be taken. Where solutions do not emerge from these types of conversations, local governments can use their authority to make repairs, demolish structures, clean up after fires, and impose liens on properties or pursue civil actions to recover their costs. To help with these efforts, local governments can negotiate with stakeholders and develop partnerships with banks, both relatively easy and inexpensive steps that rely heavily on collaboration, brainstorming, and creating plans for mutual gain.