Cortlandville mulling over vacant property local law

An example of a vacant building. (Photo via Virginia Main Street).

The town of Cortlandville is proposing a local law that would deal with vacant properties, pushing property owners to come up with a plan for the unoccupied structures and ensuring further safety for first responders entering the buildings, officials said at Wednesday’s town board meeting.

The potentially new local law, dubbed “A Local Law to Adopt the Vacant Property Law in the Town of Cortlandville, New York,” will have a public hearing in an upcoming town board meeting. 

John DelVecchio, the town’s attorney, unveiled the new ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting. He noted the Cortlandville Fire Department and Cortlandville Building Code Department brought up the importance of making town residents and first responders aware of abandoned properties. 

DelVecchio referenced the abandoned Pizza Hut building on Tompkins Street/Route 13 as an example. 

“The purpose of the (conversations between Cortlandville Fire Department and the Building Code Department) basically aimed at trying to come up with a way for the town to address these buildings and put first responders on notice where there is a vacant and potentially hazardous building,” DelVecchio said. “We don’t have anything in our code to do that. For the language of the local legislation, I pieced together language from laws found in several other municipalities.”

Through the proposed ordinance, residents can file complaints with the town’s Building Code Office to declare a property as vacant. Property owners are to register a vacant building with the Building Code Office no later than 30 days after the building is deemed vacant, or no later than 30 days after the owner has been notified by a code enforcement officer of the requirement to register, the proposed law states. The annual registration fee, as written in the local ordinance, is $500 for a residential building and $1,000 for a commercial building. 

“The law allows the code office to investigate that issue. If the code office makes the determination that it is vacant, then it will allow the code office to post a notice to identify that it is vacant to let the public know,” DelVecchio said. “If the code office does a further investigation and determines there are code violations or that it is a hazardous condition, the law would allow the code office to placard the building with the red “X” to identify the building as being in hazardous condition.”

In order to register a vacant building, property owners must submit a form provided by a code enforcement officer with the town. The information requested in the form includes:

  • Description of the premises, including tax map number and property mailing address.
  • The names, mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers of the owner or owners.
  • The names, mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers of any third party with whom the owner has entered into a contract or agreement for property management within a 25-mile radius of the town of Cortlandville.
  • The names, mailing address, email address and telephone number of all known lien holders, and all other parties with an ownership interest in the building.
  • A telephone number where a responsible party can be reached at all times during business and non-business hours.
  • A vacant building plan.

DelVecchio said the town would then have the opportunity to get in touch with the structure’s owner.

“The law would allow the town to converse with the owner and potentially have that owner come up with a plan for what the future intentions for the building are,” DelVecchio said. “There is a fee that incentivizes the owner to occupy it and not have it remain vacant.”

The vacant building plan should include one of the three following choices, according to the ordinance:

  • If the building is to be demolished, a demolition plan including the proposed time frame for demolition.
  • If the building is to remain vacant, a plan for the securing of the building, along with the procedure that will be used to maintain the property and a statement of the reasons why the building will be left vacant.
  • If the building is to be returned to appropriate occupancy or use, a rehabilitation plan for the property is required. The rehabilitation plan shall not exceed 365 days, unless the code enforcement officer grants an extension upon receipt of a written statement from the owner detailing the reasons for the extension.

If there are any changes made to the plan, they should be submitted within 30 days of registration, the ordinance states.

The proposed law also dictates vacant building maintenance. Requirements are as follows:

  • The roof shall be structurally sound and weather tight.
  • All combustible trash and debris shall be removed from the building. Any portions of the exterior of the main building or accessory buildings, including but not limited to walls, porches, stairs, parapet walls and chimneys, that are deteriorated so as to be in danger of collapse or to otherwise constitute a hazard or allow penetration of water into the building shall be repaired or replaced or otherwise made safe and weather tight.
  • The grounds surrounding the building shall be cleared and kept cleared of all litter, rubble, debris, trash and junk and of all grass or weeds in excess of six inches in height.
  • All plumbing and heating systems that contain water shall be completely drained and kept empty between October 15 and April 15, and an antifreeze solution shall be added to all plumbing traps in the building. This shall not apply if the building is adequately heated during that time period.

Violation of the proposed law could pay a fine not to exceed $250 or be imprisoned for no longer than 15 days.

DelVecchio noted he will go back to work and address feedback from code officials and present new updates at the public hearing for the law in the coming months. 

Town supervisor Tom Williams, a former code enforcement officer, praised the law for its usefulness to law enforcement.

“All (vacant) commercial buildings have a placard on the door,” he said. “Typically firemen look for that. It tells the firemen the property may have a problem. That is why we do it. This local law is just another step in ensuring safety for our firemen.”