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Proposed bill would help fight blight; burned-out, abandoned homes

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We have all seen them: burned-out homes that have been abandoned.”Oh it’s an eyesore, it’s a health menace,” said a neighbor about a nearby home.

The homes end up becoming a problem for municipalities and ultimately taxpayers.

“If a property owner abandons the property typically the municipality is on the front lines. They get the phone calls from neighbors and they are dispatched to try to take care of the problem, whatever that may be. If it’s boarding up and securing the property, if it’s cleaning up debris, or if it’s ultimately tearing it down,” said State Representative Kevin Schreiber (D) 95th District.

Representative Schreiber has introduced a bill to help. House Bill 1833 specifically deals with burned-out properties. “In the instance that a fire occurs in a municipality, under current law, the municipality has the right to hold onto a small portion of the insurance money in hopes to be collateral to make the property owner bring the building back to code. When the property is brought back to code they get that amount of money. Current law presently allows a municipality to withhold $2,000 for every $15,000 of insurance money. What this bill proposes to do is increase that to $4,000 for every $15,000,” said Rep. Schreiber.

An issue with the current law is that municipalities do not access to the money they withhold. “The money is held in an escrow fund. The city doesn’t have access to it, the municipalities don’t have access to it,” said Rep. Schreiber. In his bill municipalities would be able to use those dollars. “If after a year nothing has been done, yet the municipality has incurred a cost to go out and take care of these issues, the municipality can reimburse themselves out of that money.”

Rep. Schreiber estimated it costs between $25,000 to $30,000 to demolish a home. Although the withheld funds would not cover all of the costs, Rep. Schreiber says every dollar counts. “This is no silver bullet. This is not going to cure this problem over night, but it’s just one more tool in the tool belt for municipalities to combat this problem.”

“This is just a matter of fairness. If an individual receives insurance money and walks away from a property and abandons it, and a municipality has to incur the costs, that’s being paid by taxpayers. So we should be able to re incur as much of that costs as possible,” said Rep. Schreiber.

The bill has over a dozen co-sponsors. It has been referred to the House Insurance Committee.