Janesville City Council approves property-related ordinances

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Jake Magee
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

JANESVILLEThe Janesville City Council on Monday approved new and altered ordinances to crack down on nuisance and vacant properties.

The council narrowly passed, 4-3, a new ordinance allowing the city to register vacant properties and charge fees to the owners.

Exemptions exist, such as if the property is used as a vacation home or on a seasonal basis or if it's being actively renovated or offered for sale, said management intern Michael Smith.

Vacant properties are blights on neighborhoods, reduce property values and require a higher level of service, he said.

During the manhunt for Joseph Jakubowski, the FBI asked city officials for a list of vacant properties to search. Officials then realized the possible danger vacant properties pose to the public, Smith said.

In upcoming budget study sessions, the council will discuss a proposed $87,000 program that includes a full-time vacant building coordinator to register vacant properties.

Fees charged to property owners would fund the program, he said.

An estimated 436 residential properties must be registered in 2018 for the program to remain self-sustaining. That doesn't include registration of commercial property, renewals or re-inspection fees, he said.

Two residents opposed the ordinance during a public hearing.

Council President Doug Marklein said the ordinance would lead to confusion about what constitutes a vacant property. Other ordinances already address many concerns the vacant property ordinance would fix, Marklein said.

Marklein and council members Jens Jorgensen and Tom Wolfe voted against it.

The council unanimously approved altering Janesville's chronic nuisance property ordinance so the city can better respond to residences that have repeat problems.

Certain violations, such as arrests, count as an “action” against the property. If the property reaches four violations in a 12-month period, the property owner has to meet with city staff to devise an abatement plan to solve the issues.

The new ordinance has the same rules, but more things count as violations, including homicides and unsafe burning.

Another big change is that an arrest doesn't have to be made at a property for it to count as an action against that property. Under the previous ordinance, the arrest had to be made at the property for it to count, a requirement that troubled the police department for years, said Sgt. Josh Norem.

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