Some cities and counties are taking action to cleanup vacant properties. Owners of vacant lots who allow the properties to become blighted with debris are more likely to face financial expense for cleanup and fines. Cities are passing ordinances to penalize owners for nuisance or dangerous property conditions.
The rate at which cities across the country are passing these laws is increasing as the recession causes more properties to go without maintenance. The typical structure of these laws is built around the “Clean and Lien” concept. When a property is identified in a condition which violates the ordinance, the municipality can come in and clean up the lot. The property owner is responsible for the cleanup expense. Gila County Arizona adopted such a policy last year, using the “Clean and Lien” moniker. Their law has a provision of placing a lien for cleanup costs after a 30 day notice. (.PDF file)
More frequently, the new ordinances are being crafted in a way that makes these liens “super liens” with priority over prior encumbrances, especially when the violation involves hazardous waste.
An example is a law in Michigan (.PDF file) which does just this: “A lien created under this section has priority over any other lien..”
In Arkansas, House Bill 1028 (.PDF file) has been proposed which would have a similar effect: ” “Clean-up lien” means a lien securing the cost of work undertaken by a town or city to remove, abate, or eliminate a condition in violation of local codes or ordinances. A clean-up lien may have priority against other lienholders as provided in this section.”
Cape may County NJ Commissioner Gary Demarzo questioned the “Clean and Lien” law on the books in that county, saying “There is no due process,” DeMarzo said. “The present system does not seem to afford the homeowner the opportunity to pay or dispute the charges levied by the city prior the implementation of a lien.” He also asked for a moratorium on the practice.
One of the earliest examples of Clean and Lien laws was enacted in Providence, Rhode Island. Many of the subsequent ordinances in other states use the success of the Providence law as reason to enact their own, and even use the wording as a template. According to the Brown University article from 1997, liens placed against those lots cleaned under the City’s “Clean and Lien” program are now recorded in the highest priority. Under the “Clean and Lien” program, the DPW will clean up a dirty lot if its owner doesn’t respond to the notice of violation within 3 days.