Vacant or Abandoned Structures
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a vacant or abandoned structure?
A vacant and abandoned structure is any building which has been used or was intended for use as a residential dwelling or commercial structure, in whole or in part, including an accessory building, which has become vacant or abandoned for a period of at least 60 consecutive days for residential structures and 180 consecutive days for commercial structures and which also meets at least one of the following conditions:
(1) Is open to casual entry or trespass;
(2) Is fire damaged to an extent which prohibits safe human occupancy;
(3) Is the site of loitering or vagrancy;
(4) Demonstrates a lack of property maintenance and upkeep as evidenced by one or more current violations of the International Property Maintenance Code;
(5) Is under notice for existing violation(s) of City ordinances;
(6) Is a residential structure secured for at least 60 days with plywood boarding or its equivalent, or a commercial structure secured for at least 180 days with plywood boarding or its equivalent;
(7) Has taxes in arrears to the City for a period of time exceeding 365 days;
(8) Has the utility heat source of gas and/or electric disconnected or discontinued;
(9) Is under a condemnation notice or legal order to vacate;
(10) Is structurally unsound; or
(11) Is a potential hazard or danger to persons.
City regulations on vacant or abandoned structures are described in Chapter 1456 of the Battle Creek Code of Ordinances.
Why are vacant and abandoned structures a City concern?
Vacant structures lower property values and make people feel unsafe. The City Commission has determined that the presence of vacant and abandoned structures create an element of neighborhood blight. It is recognized that blight lowers property values; leads to deteriorating housing conditions; undermines the quality of neighborhood life; affects the public health, safety and general welfare; and can also result in human injury and criminal activity. The City Commission also determined that vacant and unoccupied structures occupy an inordinate amount of City administrative and enforcement resources.
How do vacant buildings come to the attention of the City?
Vacant structures are identified by neighborhood complaints, code compliance officers, fire or police departments, or trade inspectors. The owner of the building on record with the City is sent a letter with a vacant building registration form requesting a response within 30 days. Filing a vacant building registration form has a $25 fee. Once registered as vacant, City utility billing ensures that water service is turned off.
How much does it cost to have a building on the vacant or abandoned list?
The fee to register a vacant or abandoned structure is $25. Each month the structure is vacant, Code Compliance officers monitor all vacant buildings at least monthly. The City’s monthly monitoring fee is $40 and is invoiced quarterly. The monthly administrative monitoring fee shall be invoiced for all months during which the structure was a vacant or abandoned structure for 15 days or more. However, the monthly administrative monitoring fee for a vacant or abandoned property shall be suspended for a maximum period of six months from the date on which an initial building, electrical, mechanical, or plumbing permit issues for work the premises.
An owner of a vacant or abandoned property that has been monitored for a minimum of one year and having no exterior violations during that time may request in writing to have monitoring conducted quarterly and monitoring fees adjusted accordingly.
What happens if the monthly monitoring fee is not paid?
The City can assess a late fee, in an amount to be established by the City Commission, when the monthly administrative monitoring fee is not timely paid. . Any unpaid fees in March and September are referred to the Special Assessment Review Board. After review, the Board sends a letter asking for payment and giving property owner instructions how to dispute/appeal charges. After review, the Board adds amounts owed to the property’s taxes.
What if the structure needs to be secured against entry?
A vacant or abandoned structure must be secure from casual entry and trespass. If open to entry, an Order to Secure is issued and must be complied with by the owner within 72 hours. If the securing is not completed or does not comply with the requirements for securing the structure, the City shall secure the structure and will then invoice the owner of record for all costs incurred, including service fees and administrative costs. The amount invoiced will become a personal debt of the owner and recorded as a lien against the property.
A property owner shall repair or replace unsecured doors and windows or install plywood boarding or its equivalent over all points of entry on an abandoned structure such that all exterior openings suitable for animal or human entry are secured. If securing is done using exterior grade plywood or its equivalent, it must be completed as follows:
(1) Any first story and ground accessible points of entry shall be secured by use of exterior grade plywood or its equivalent, of at least one-half inch thickness, cut to the size of the opening and secured by the use of two-inch long screws.
(2) Any entry points above the first story or not accessible from ground level, such shall be secured by use of exterior grade plywood or its equivalent of at least one-half inch thickness, cut to the size of the opening and secured by the use of 16 penny common nails or two inch long screws.
(3) Any bare wood surface shall be painted the same or similar color of the surrounding surface.
What happens if a person fails to register a vacant or abandoned structure once a letter is sent requesting registration?
A person who violates or fails to comply with the requirements of this chapter is guilty of a Class D civil infraction and shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars ($100.00) per day for each offense.
Once vacant, how is the Certificate of Occupancy affected?
The Certificate of Occupancy is suspended at the time a property is deemed a vacant or abandoned structure as defined in this chapter. No structure that is vacant or abandoned shall be reoccupied until inspected and found to be in compliance with the International Property Maintenance Code except where otherwise specified herein. The Certificate of Occupancy is revoked once a property has been vacant or abandoned for more than 24 months as defined by this chapter. The length of time that the structure has been vacant determines which type of inspection is required prior to re-occupancy.
If the property is a residential structure that will be owner occupied
Vacant less than 6 months – No inspection required, Certificate of Occupancy is reinstated
Vacant 6 to 24 months – Property Maintenance Code inspection required
Vacant more than 24 months – Safety inspection require
If the property is a residential structure that will be non-owner occupied
Rental registration is required
Vacant 2 to 24 months – Property Maintenance Code inspection required
More than 24 months – Safety inspection required
If the property is a commercial structure
Vacant 6 to 24 months – Property Maintenance Code inspection required
Vacant more than 24 months – Safety inspection required
If there are no violations at the time of inspection the Certificate of Occupancy is reinstated and the property can be occupied. If violations are present at the time of inspection but none of which are health, safety, or welfare, a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy may be issued and the property occupied providing follow up reinspection is conducted to verify that all violations have been corrected. Once all violations have been corrected, and all outstanding registration and monitoring fees have been paid, the full Certificate of Occupancy is reinstated.
If there are violations, the inspector will create a violations letter and forward it to the current owner. Once a building permit is pulled to make repairs, the City will temporarily turn on the water for repairs to be made. The homeowner has 30 days to make required upgrades to avoid the civil infractions process. Extensions are granted on request to give more time to make property improvements.
What if a building on the vacant and abandoned list is sold to another person/organization?
All nuisance, housing, building and related code violations will be cited and noticed to the owner of record and shall become the owner’s responsibility to bring the property into compliance. If the owner sells or otherwise disposes of the property to another party, the new owner shall not be entitled to any extension of time to correct or address the violations that existed at the time of sale, transfer or conveyance of the property from the original owner.
What if the property is a danger to the neighborhood?
Vacant and abandoned structures that pose a health and safety risk to the neighborhood or are too costly to repair may be referred to the dangerous buildings process described in Chapter 1454 Dangerous Buildings of the Battle Creek Code of Ordinances.