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COOS BAY — Coos Bay city staff has partnered with the city’s Homeless Work Group to develop an ordinance that, if approved, would have owners of vacant property register with the city.

The ordinance is designed to provide the city with the information necessary to contact vacant property owners in the event of an issue with their property.

“It has to be registered with the city, and they have to provide us with specific information to who we can contact that’s in charge of the property and can mitigate issues that come up from time to time," said Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock. "The registration would require periodic checks of the property to ensure that there’s not people moving in to it.”

Enacting a vacant property registration ordinance would allow police officers to have contact with the property owners and potentially give those officers the authority to enter the property should an issue on the property arise.

“One thing we’ve encountered in the past is houses that have been unlawfully occupied, and our officers have not been able to go in and tell people to leave without the authorization of the property owner,” said Drew Farmer, councilman and board member on Coos Bay’s Homeless Work Group.

According to Farmer, there is also a provision in the ordinance that would allow the chief of police to require the property owner to board up windows and doors of a vacant property if the property is deemed a nuisance.  

Another part of the drafted ordinance would require owners of vacant properties to maintain their property to a city-established level. Property owners that live more than 50 miles away from their vacant property would be required to have a property manager maintain the site in the owner’s absence.

“Right now we don’t have any way of being notified of when a property is vacant,” said Coos Bay Codes Enforcement Officer Nik Rapelje.

Currently the city knows of over 70 vacant properties within city limits, but Rapelje expects that if the ordinance is adopted more vacant properties will be discovered in the area.

“I expect that there are some out there that I don’t know about, because they’re probably being maintained. If I don’t know about them then they’re probably in decent condition, but the vacant property registration would then let know to go by and look on them and make sure everything is okay,” Rapelje said.

This ordinance is part one of a two-part system that the city is trying to enact. The second part would allow the city to issue fees to vacant property owners should they fail to register and maintain minimum standards of the city.

“They would accumulate fees, because the city would go in and provide the maintenance services and then bill the property owner," Farmer said. "If they do not pay those fees, under the second ordinance, it would allow the city to step ahead of all other lien holders on the property and potentially seize the property."

Farmer said that many details in the follow-up ordinance need to be worked out and it is far from ready to be discussed by city council.

The initial benefit that the city is seeking with this ordinance is to identify vacant homes in order to eliminate criminal mischief taking place in vacant houses.

“The long term benefit with regard to our homeless population and our housing crisis is that with the receiver ordinance we might be able to either take some of those properties, or turn them over to a responsible non-profit to turn them into low income housing. Or in some cases these properties are so derelict that the just need to be torn down,” Farmer said.

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Nicholas A. Johnson can be reached at 541-266-6049, or by email at nicholas.johnson@theworldlink.com.

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