Proposed ordinance may speed up demolition process in West Virginia

The updates include obtaining a search warrant to access blighted properties and a detailed definition of an unsafe building.

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September 13, 2017
CDR Staff
Demolition Legislation & Regulations
A proposed ordinance update in Huntington, West Virginia, may speed up the process of demolishing unsound vacant structures, a report by the Huntington Herald-Dispatch says. The ordinance, which went before Huntington City Council for a first reading Sept. 11, allows officials to obtain a search warrant to access a property when the owner can’t be identified and provides a more detailed definition of an unsafe building.

Assistant City Attorney Ericka Hernandez says in the report that, currently, the process from receiving a complaint about a dilapidated or abandoned building to demolishing it takes around 10 months. Usually the process takes longer when the city cannot identify a property owner.

If the ordinance is updated, a code enforcement agency will be allowed to obtain an administrative search warrant from a municipal or magistrate judge to determine whether a building is considered safe or unsafe. Scott Lemley, executive director of Huntington’s Department of Planning and Development, says in the report this can speed up the demolition process by months if the property owners cannot be found.

In terms of how an unsafe building is defined, the ordinance update has two broader categories with subcategories. Buildings that are considered clearly unsafe—for example, on the verge of collapse, have foundational issues and are a substantial risk of fire or threat to life—are part of the first category. The report says the second category goes deeper into what a vacant or dilapidated building looks like and states that risks of safety include being a harbor for criminal activity, being unfit or unsanitary for humans and if reasonable costs exceed fair market value.

If the Unsafe Building Commission (UBC) says a property is unsafe and the owner wants to remediate the structure, it will be the owner’s sole responsibility per the updated ordinance. During the remediation process, the owner must present a plant to the commission and, if he or she needs more time to complete remediation, must provide proof that the repairs are taking place.

The report says the council is expected to vote on the ordinance Sept. 25.