Camera and clipboard in hand, Corey Passer circled a home at 127 Madison St. on Wednesday afternoon.
He snapped photos of various sore spots, including rotting wood, an unsecured cellar door and cracks in the foundation. The home, which was once a small church, was clearly abandoned.
Last month, the city hired Passer as its vacant building coordinator to head the vacant building registration program the Janesville City Council narrowly approved last summer. His job: find and catalog Janesville’s vacant properties—of which there are estimated to be more than 1,000—in hopes the owners fix them up and get them occupied.
“There’s a lot of properties here that the owners, they sit on it. They have no ambition to use it as a rental income. They have no ambition to occupy it themselves. It’s residential, so they can’t open a business in it, and then it ends up sitting for a long time,” Passer said.
Properties confirmed as vacant are registered with the city, and property owners pay a registration fee. The fees start at $200 for residential properties and $350 for commercial ones, Passer said.
If a registered property is still vacant after six months, it’s re-registered at $50 more than the previous fee, maxing out at $500. The fees recur indefinitely until a property is no longer vacant, Passer said.
“Part of that is to encourage those property owners to either use the building for a business purpose (or) rental property or to fix it up and sell it so it’s a usable piece of property,” he said.
The money collected will help fund the program, The Gazette previously reported.
Passer thinks the program will reduce the number of vacant properties, but it will be a slow process, he said.
“I think that it’s a good way to encourage property owners to either make a change to the property where they can either rent it as a rental or fix it up to sell it up where someone else could use it for those purposes,” Passer said.
The city wants to address vacant properties for several reasons, the most obvious being such properties tend to be eyesores that hurt nearby property values.
They also affect city services because the city ends up doing upkeep if the owners aren’t doing so, Passer said, and police and fire calls to vacant properties divert public safety resources.
“It also creates a safety issue when you’ve got properties that are left without maintenance for a certain period of time,” Passer said. “You’ve got neighborhood children that maybe are playing around and creating a hazard and safety concern.”
The city uses a couple methods to identify vacant properties.
A lot of the work involves Passer driving around trying to find them, but the city can also access water, power and gas usage rates to determine whether a property might be abandoned, Passer said.
“It just gives you kind of an idea that hey, this property probably isn’t being used,” he said.
After identifying an apparently vacant property, Passer sends the owner a letter to confirm it is unoccupied. The city considers a property vacant if it has been unoccupied for at least 90 days, he said.
Passer has been contacted by banks and major property management companies that own vacant properties. They’re working with the city to get them registered, Passer said.