A municipality’s code enforcement officer determines whether a property is uninhabitable, in violation of the West Virginia State Building Code (WVSBC), and subject to an uninhabitable property registration program fee.
Although similar to a vacant property registry, an uninhabitable property registration program has different requirements and should be treated as distinct.
Municipalities. These programs may only be implemented by municipalities, not counties.1
Adopt the WVSBC. A municipality must adopt the WVSBC prior to creating an uninhabitable property registration program. A code enforcement officer, certified under the WVSBC, must determine whether a property violates the building code and is subject to the registration program.2
Establish an enforcement agency. A municipality must also have an enforcement agency in place, under West Virginia Code Section 8-12-16, in order to maintain an uninhabitable property registration program. The enforcement agency consists of the mayor, the municipal engineer or building inspector, and one member at large.3 The ranking health officer and fire chief serve as ex officio members of the enforcement agency.4
- If an uninhabitable property registration fee remains unpaid for two years, a municipality may take action to receive the property by means of forfeiture
- Creates an incentive for owners of uninhabitable structures to fix their properties to avoid paying annual registration fees and losing property by forfeiture
- If a structure is uninhabitable, it remains in violation of the WVSBC even if registration fees are paid
- Takes time and resources to enforce the registry
The fee schedule for an uninhabitable property registration program is set by the municipality’s governing body.6 Some communities have implemented a tiered fee schedule with fee amounts determined by how many years a property has been on the registry.
The City of Buckhannon has established an uninhabitable property registration program. However, the City uses a different approach for determining registration fees. The City calculates a monthly fee of $0.02 per square foot of the uninhabitable structure, using records maintained by the Upshur County Assessor’s Office to determine square footage.7
The fees obtained through an uninhabitable property registration program can be used to help fund its enforcement and monitoring efforts.8
Usage in West Virginia
The West Virginia Code was amended in 2014 to clarify who is responsible for compliance with local uninhabitable registration programs by defining “owner” for registration fee purposes.
In 2014, the City of Ranson was selected to participate in the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. Under the home rule program, the City received the authority to shorten the time period to claim properties by forfeiture under West Virginia Code Section 8-12-16a. The City will reduce the time period to take property by forfeiture under the uninhabitable property registration program from 24 months to 10 months.8
The City has been aggressively going after owners who have property that is uninhabitable. It is important to keep a file on each property including all complaints, violations, police reports, and any other report related to the structure. The more information you have on a nuisance property, the easier it is to prove there is a problem if you need to. The City’s goal is to get the property owner to take responsibility for their property, including maintenance and upkeep.
- Joe Richmond, Building Inspector, City of Moundsville
Notification Requirements & Special Procedures
After code enforcement officers determine that a structure is uninhabitable and violates the WVSBC, they must post notice of the violation on the property and send a copy of the notice, by certified mail, to the owner(s) of the property at the last known address. 9
Notice must include:
- An explanation of the violation(s);
- A description of the registration;
- The date the fee will be assessed;
- An explanation of how to be removed from the registration;
- An explanation of the appeals process; and
- A statement that if the fee is not paid, the property is subject to forfeiture.
The property owner has 45 days after receiving notice to either make the necessary repairs or provide written information to the code enforcement officer showing that repairs are forthcoming in a reasonable period of time. 10 The property owner may appeal the officer’s determination to the local enforcement agency within 90 days of receiving notification. The property owner may also appeal the enforcement agency’s decision to the circuit court within 30 days of the enforcement agency’s decision. 11
If an uninhabitable property registration fee remains unpaid for 24 months, the municipality may take action to receive the uninhabitable property by means of forfeiture. When a municipality takes a property by forfeiture, it becomes the owner of record and takes the property subject to all liens and applicable taxes. 12
In 2013, the City of Moundsville created an uninhabitable property registration program. The City has a general registration program that includes both vacant and uninhabitable properties. As of July 2015, there were approximately 90 properties on the vacant property registry, and of those, about 30 structures were also on the uninhabitable property registry. The City imposes a tiered fee schedule for the vacant property registry, based on how many years a property has been listed, and a $100 annual fee for the uninhabitable property registry. 13
Over the last four years, there have been 66 structures demolished, most which were on the vacant and uninhabitable property registration list. 15 Property owners demolished all but five of them, using personal funds, after being placed on one of the registries.
In addition to paying fees, owners of vacant or uninhabitable properties in Moundsville must also keep their property mowed; cover any unstable doors and windows; and repair trim, gutters, and overhang extensions.16
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-12-16c(a) (West 2015).
- See id. § 8-12-16a.
- Id. § 8-12-16a(n).
- Id. § 8-12-16a(a).
- Buckhannon, W. Va., Vacant Structures Ordinance 367 art. 2, § 13 (2012), available at http://bwv.pikewoodcreative.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Ord-367- Vacant-Structures.pdf.
- City of Ranson, Powers for Progress: West Virginia Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II Application 3 (2014), available at http://www.wvcommerce.org/App_Media/assets/doc/ peopleandplaces/WV_Home_Rule/Ranson.pdf.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-12-16a(c)(2) (West).
- Id. § 8-12-16a(d).
- Id. § 8-12-16a(j).
- Id. § 8-12-16a(n).
- Moundsville, W. Va., Ordinance art. 1107 (2015).
- Id. art. 1107.3(c)–(d).
- Email from Joe Richmond, Building Inspector, City of Moundsville, West Virginia, to Jared Anderson, Supporting Land Use Attorney, Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic (Jul. 2, 2015, [11:44am]) (on file with LUSD Law Clinic).
- Moundsville, W. Va., Ordinance art. 1107.09.