When a municipality is faced with one or more unsightly, dangerous and abandoned structures, their code enforcement staff generally works with the owner of record and/or creditors to address all code violations. However, under today's stressful fiscal climate and in light of the huge uptick in foreclosures, there are more and more situations in which the property owner is completely non-responsive to demands for code compliance. In those situations, the municipality often does not have the legal authority or the financial wherewithal to restore or to demolish the property and as a result, properties end up boarded up in the hope of preventing future unauthorized access. The AGO is uniquely positioned to support municipalities it he effort to recover abandoned housing to productive use. The AGO has jurisdiction under the receivership provisions of the State Sanitary Code to enforce the health and sanitary code violations on specific properties.

By employing the authority of the receivership statute the AGO working within the relevant court can shift responsibility for the property from the municipality onto the Court. The Court assigns an individual or organization to serve as receiver, and to work with the court to bring the property up to code and back onto the tax rolls.

The success of this model requires the active participation of the city or town's legal and enforcement authorities, as well community groups and housing advocates and includes the following steps.

Inventory and Prioritize Properties

The creation of an inventory will be a different process for each community. Various members of the staff and community organizations may be involved, including: Legal Counsel/City or Town Solicitor, Community Development Office, Inspectional Services/ Building Department, Fire Department, Police Department, Community Development Corporation, Redevelopment Authority.

The identified abandoned properties are prioritized based upon: the nature of the health and safety hazards presented; the capability of rehabilitation; cost effectiveness; the neighborhood impact; and any existing community housing plans. The property may be either occupied or unoccupied. In all events, however, there must be a threat to the health and safety of residential tenants, occupiers, neighbors, or abutters. The municipality can gather this kind of information about the property on its own, although municipal staff can contact the AGO for assistance in development of the inventory at any time.

Investigate Properties

An initial investigation is necessary as a prelude to going into court. Some of this investigation can be done at the municipal level. The AGO may be able to provide assistance with other aspects of the investigation. The elements of the investigation include but are likely not limited to:

  1. Obtaining a copy of the most recent title or deed.
  2. Identifying an address where the bills (such as utilities, taxes, etc.) are sent.
  3. Establishing the status of any outstanding encumbrances, such as mortgages or liens.
  4. Obtaining a current assessment of the property (what is the property the worth in its current state?).
  5. Working with relevant parties to identify evidence for Sanitary Code enforcement.
  6. Contacting police and fire departments to obtain any reports and statistics on calls for service to a particular address or property.
  7. Contacting the municipal inspectional services or health department to identify any inspections pertaining to property or reports of code violations.

Petition for a Receiver

Armed with this information, the municipality, working with the AGO is equipped to go into the relevant court to petition for the appointment of a receiver.

The notice of intent to move for the appointment of a receiver is provided to the landlord/owner and creditors of record. The notice will explain that the receiver will undertake the necessary renovations of the property.

The receiver should be a local organization, individual, company (profit or nonprofit), or group with ties to the community. Preferably, the potential receiver should have some construction and/or renovation expertise (and/or property management experience if the housing is, or will be, occupied).