CHESHIRE — The Town Council unanimously approved an unsafe premises law that imposes fines for dilapidated or vacant properties.
The council revised the ordinance several times before passage so that it would impose penalties for hazards to public safety and health but wouldn’t prompt frivolous complaints.
“I was less concerned with blight and more concerned with the interests of the safety of neighbors, kids and first responders,” said Paul Bowman, council vice chairman and a Republican.
A police officer checking an empty house put his foot through a floor this past year, Bowman said. The officer wasn’t injured. In 2014, a dilapidated home was demolished after a woman was found dead inside.
Peter Talbot, a council Democrat, said he’s in favor of the version of the law passed this week.
“It went through several iterations. I was not a proponent of it when it first came out,” he said. “It went from being a blight ordinance to a public safety ordinance… It’s not something that’s going to pit neighbor against neighbor.”
The ordinance imposes fines of up to $100 per day on property owners that have allowed garbage to accumulate, vegetation to grow or structures to decay to a point where it’s a danger to the public. Under the ordinance, town officials would notify a property owner of violations and provide time for the owner to remedy them. Additional time would be given to elderly or low-income property owners.
Town officials said they wanted to carefully define conditions that could result in fines to keep the ordinance from becoming a “weapon” neighbors can invoke during disputes. The ordinance allows residents to submit written and signed complaints about unsafe premises to the town's blight enforcement officer.
Town residents voiced concerns to councilors in correspondence and at public hearings about earlier versions of the law that included more conditions under which fines could be levied.
Town Manager Sean Kimball said the ordinance name reflects changes made recently.
“It’s focused on unsafe structures, unsafe premises,” he said.
Bowman described himself as a firm believer in property rights and doesn’t want the town involved in how people keep their homes. But he does want the town to be able to force changes for a home in danger of falling down.
“The town was limited without this ordinance,” Bowman said.