In 2014, a resident of Winslow Road in Cheshire died after the floor of her house collapsed under the weight of accumulated belongings. The structure was subsequently demolished.
That’s one example, and an obviously extreme one, of the type of situation that has led the town to implement an unsafe premises law that imposes fines for dilapidated or vacant properties. The Town Council recently approved the ordinance after several revisions, to make it clear the penalties are for public safety and health hazards and not for what could be considered frivolous complaints.
That was an important distinction for some, including council Democrat Peter Talbot. “It went through several iterations,” he said. “I was not a proponent of it when it first came out. It went from being a blight ordinance to a public safety ordinance… It’s not something that’s going to pit neighbor against neighbor.”
It’s certainly not worth lending any more fire to what might be an inflamed relationship between neighbors, and the ordinance appears designed with that in mind. The ordinance allows residents to submit complaints to the town’s blight enforcement officer. Fines of up to $100 a day can be imposed on property owners who allow garbage to pile up, or allow vegetation to grow or structures to decay to the point where they’ve become a danger to the public. Owners deemed in violation would be given time to correct the situation, with elderly and low-income residents given more time.
Republican Paul Bowman, council vice chairman, articulated what many might feel wary about when it comes to such an ordinance, as in the risk to individual property rights. Bowman said he was less worried about blight and more worried about safety.
The ordinance allows the town to get involved when a structure is deemed a risk to others. After careful deliberations, the council appears to have come up with an answer in the interests of safety.