BY SARAH GREGORY
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen will consider today an amendment to the Town's Property Maintenance Code that changes the way the code is enforced, but leaves the existing code in place.
The amendment will be considered on first reading this afternoon in a 4 p.m. meeting of the board in the G. Thomas Love Boardroom at the Greeneville Light & Power Building.
If passed today, the amendment will still require a second and final reading at a later meeting before it would become official.
The amendment would, essentially, create a Standard Review Board -- comprised of three citizens -- to hold hearings concerning properties deemed unfit for human occupancy by the Town's Building Inspector.
City Administrator Todd Smith said in an interview today that the amendment would not change the standards used to determine whether a property is unfit for occupancy.
Smith said the changes also do not pertain to "aesthetics," but are designed to allow the Town to recover funds spent on clean-up of properties that have been deemed unfit for occupancy.
STANDARD REVIEW BOARD
Smith said that the creation of a Standard Review Board makes the Town's enforcement of the Property Maintenance Code "more accountable to the public" because the issues would be reviewed by citizens, not Town employees.
The board would, he said, be comprised of three individuals who are knowledgeable, trained, and qualified in matters regarding property maintenance and construction -- those in professions such as contracting, architecture, etc.
Members of the board would not be paid; however, they would be able to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses if any expenses are incurred in the course of carrying out their duties.
BOARD REVIEW PROCESS
Under the amendment, this would be the proccedure in the case of a problem property:
After a petition was filed by the Town's Building Inspector or by a minimum of five city residents charging that a particular structure is unfit for occupancy, a notice would be served upon the property's owner to schedule a hearing before the Standard Review Board.
The owner would have the right to file an answer to the complaint and appear in person before the review board and give testimony.
If, during the hearing, the Standard Review Board determines the property is unfit, orders will then be served on the owner.
The orders would state as follows:
* If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the structure can be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the structure's value (not exceeding 50 percent of the total value), the owner will be required -- within a specified time frame -- to make such repairs or improvements to render it fit for occupancy; otherwise, the property-owner would be required to vacate and close the structure for human use.
* If the repair of the structure cannot be made at a reasonable cost (not to exceed 50 percent of the premises' value), the owner may be required to remove or demolish the structure within a specified time frame.
* If an order to repair is made and the owner fails to comply, the Town's Building Inspector may have the structure repaired, or vacated and closed, by posting a sign that states:
"This building is unfit for human occupation or use. The use or occupation of this building for human occupation or use is prohibited and unlawful."
A finding of "unfitness" by the Standard Review Board means the property has been determined to be dangerous or injurious to the health, safety, or morals of occupants or users of such structure, occupants or users of neighboring structures, or other residents of the Town of Greeneville.
Such conditions include: defects that increase the hazards of fire, accident, and other calamities, lack of adequate ventilation, light, or sanitary facilities, dilapidation, disrepair, structural defects, or uncleanliness.
RECOVERING REPAIR FUNDS
Smith ssaid in the interview that one of the primary purposes of the amendment is to recover funds the Town spends to clean up properties deemed unfit for human use.
He says in most cases, the structures deemed unfit have been abandoned, or are owned by individuals who do not live in Greeneville and have, essentially, completely neglected the upkeep of their properties.
He pointed to one incident as an example in which a large tree fell on a house and was left for months without any clean-up, presenting a hazard within that particular neighborhood.
Smith said the amendment would allow the Town to recover the cost of cleaning up properties such as the one in the cited example.
If the Standard Review Board determines that a property is unfit and finds that it could be repaired or altered in such a way that it would become fit for human occupancy at a reasonable cost, but the owner does not comply within the specified time frame, the Town may then initiate the repairs.
The cost of those repairs -- or the cost of vacating, closing, removing, or demolishing the unfit structure -- may then be assessed and filed in a lien in the office of the Greene County Register of Deeds.
The costs may then be collected by the municipality's tax collector or county trustee in the same manner as property taxes.
If the liens are not satisfied, they may then be treated in the same manner as delinquent property taxes and subject to the same penalties and interest.
The Town could also collect the costs through an action for debt filed in court.
If, instead of making repairs, the Town takes action to demolish the structure, costs may also be recovered by the sale of salvaged materials.
Smith says the amendment, if approved, would help the Town in terms of "neighborhood revitalization."
He says that, during the last several months, the Town has made a more concerted effort to enforce the Property Maintenance Code to protect the safety of Greeneville citizens.
He added that the intent is not to dictate to citizens how to paint their homes or other such aesthetic concerns, but instead, to deal with safety hazards and dilapidated, abandoned structures that affect entire neighborhoods.