Addressing vacant and dilapidated properties takes a great deal of time, funding, and expertise. Instead of addressing properties one by one, some communities use a more systematic approach by creating a staffed entity whose sole mission is addressing neglected properties. Often called “land banks,” these entities specialize in the acquisition, redevelopment, and sale or lease of neglected properties for the purpose of converting them to a more productive use. Frequently, land banks have an inventory or “bank” of properties that are targeted for redevelopment. Two West Virginia statutes authorize the creation of independent public entities intended to convert neglected properties to productive use: the Urban Renewal Authority Law of 19511 and the West Virginia Land Reuse Agency Authorization Act of 2014.2
Urban Renewal Authorities (URAs) and Land Reuse Agencies (LRAs) redevelop properties with long-term community priorities in mind. In this sense, the organizations act as responsible landowners. URAs and LRAs typically acquire properties that are undesirable to the average homebuyer, business, or developer.
URAs and LRAs may clear title issues, address contamination issues, redevelop the property, or take other action to make the property more desirable to responsible purchasers.
URAs and LRAs generally can do anything a traditional landowner can do. For example, both can design, develop, construct, demolish, reconstruct, deconstruct, rehabilitate, renovate, relocate, and otherwise improve real property. Both entities are also authorized to collect rent and to grant or acquire licenses, easements, leases, or options for their properties.
This Part outlines key differences between URAs and LRAs. Other authorities are enabled under West Virginia law to acquire, redevelop, and dispose of real property as well. This Part does not identify all government authorities enabled to acquire property, but does highlight the use of development authorities. Also note that the purpose of a URA may be broader than addressing neglected property, however, this toolkit only addresses issues related to abandoned and neglected properties.
1 W. Va. Code Ann. §§ 16-18-1 to -29 (West 2015).
2 Id. §§ 31-18E-1 to -18.