NORWALK, Conn. – The tally of Norwalk property owners being pressured under the city’s new blight ordinance has grown to 31, according to Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland, Norwalk’s blight ordinance enforcement officer. Five are under citation, with more to be added by the end of the week, he said.
The number of complaints of blighted properties is “growing quickly” under the ordinance, Ireland said Friday, speculating that his stack of recent complaints included 10 properties he hadn’t yet investigated. Surprisingly, some people thank him for the kick in the pants. Many properties have improved since the new blight ordinance went into effect Jan. 1, he said.
Those under citation are the property owners who did not reply to a warning letter, he said. That includes the dilapidated 61 Osbourne Ave. house shown above, which features a fallen-in roof, now easily visible from the street.
The rumor that someone is living in the house appears to be false, he said.
“I have driven by – there’s no heat, the gas meters are off – people have said that but some other people from the health department said ‘No, the house is empty,’” he said.
The owners took the certified letter of warning, he said, but there has been no reply. They had 45 days to respond. Since that has passed, the $100 a day fines are accruing in a lien on the property.
It might be an unsafe structure, he said. “It may be determined that the house should be torn down. We have done that with other properties,” he said. If so, that would also be a lien.
Another house with a lien on it is a dilapidated house in the woods on Range Road in Rowayton. That situation will end soon, as it is being sold, he said.
He got a phone call asking if the new owners would be subject to the fine, he said. The answer was no, not for a reasonable amount of time, he said.
“I’ll give them time to put their ducks in the row,” he said. “(I said), ‘If I see nothing happening you’ll get the warning letter.’”
It’s been owned by a Shelton resident who inherited it, he said. It sat there for years, until the blight ordinance came into effect. The expected owner is talking to Planning and Zoning about plans for the property, he said.
Another eyesore that’s under citation is on Richards Avenue, its boarded up windows easily visible in a prominent location. Its owner lives in Darien but hasn’t responded to the letters, he said.
That’s now under the auspices of the Corporation Counsel office, he said.
But around the corner is a success story. The tarp is off the roof of the empty house at 181 Fillow St. and the yard has been cleaned up.
The owners – two brothers and a sister – called right away and are systematically working on it, he said. The deck in the back will be repaired next, he said.
The owner of a house on the corner of Hillside Street and Elmwood Avenue called right away and said his mother had had a stroke, he said.
“He said they’re going to put it on the market,” Ireland said. “I guess there are just legal aspects on how they can have control. He said there’s one interested buyer in the neighborhood.”
The blighted properties are all over the city, he said – five in Rowayton, two in Silvermine and others in East Norwalk and Cranbury. But some complaints don’t result in letters, as sometimes neighbors think decorations represent blight.
Imagine if your neighbor still had Christmas decorations out.
The complaints built slowly, as it isn’t easy to see blight with snow covering everything, he said. He said he suspects that blight enforcement might have a natural seasonal rhythm to it.
The reaction to enforcement letters was surprising he said.
“A lot of people get it, it’s the shot in the arm they need to comply. One guy thanked me,” he said.
That “guy” said he would get a trash bin and get it done before his knee surgery. Ireland drove by and saw the trash bin, he said.
“I thought I would be getting a lot of flak but I think people take an honest look at what they have as far as it being shown to them. … I haven’t had many conflicts yet,” he said.
Those who would complain are probably the people who haven’t responded, he said.
He doesn’t want to hurt people but finds it very satisfying to see blighted properties improve in neighborhoods where most people are working hard to keep their homes up, he said.
“We hope for the compliance. We don’t want to get into citations and end up in court. We do provide agencies that would help if you’re elderly,” he said.
Money from the fines will pay for the enforcement efforts, and an overage can be used to clean up blight, he said.
“Statutorily the money cannot go into the general fund. It has to be used for blight only,” he said. That means if someone isn’t complying Norwalk can do the work, once the fund is built, and slap a lien on the property for that. It could be as simple as cleaning up a yard or something more elaborate, he said.
The building inspector is doing the enforcement work on top of the work he already had. He has a flex schedule that now sometimes includes doing some blight enforcement on his Mondays off.
He’s getting a stipend and earning some time off in the future, he said.
“It is full time as far as taking complaints but it’s not full time as far as going out and investigating,” he said.
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