The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 15, 2014

Wilson: Vacant building registry still just an idea

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A draft copy of an ordinance that will be discussed at the next Enid City Commission meeting has been circulating among members of the public.

The only problem, a commissioner said Wednesday, is that the 11-page vacant building registry is not even a proposal yet.

After more than one member of the city commission brought up the idea, Enid’s legal staff drafted an ordinance commissioners could review. Someone provided a copy of it to Enid Metro Association of Realtors.

“It’s just a first rough draft, so I don’t know if they should be relying on it for anything — other than that is a place for us to start discussion,” Ward 5 Commissioner Tammy Wilson said.

Wilson has asked the commission to talk about the registry at its next study session Feb. 20.

So far, a couple of commissioners have talked about wanting to look at how a registry could be implemented in Enid, she said.

“That is the only discussion we’ve had. We have not, as a group, sat down and even talked about it yet,” said Wilson.

At its core, a vacant building registry allows a municipality to keep a list of which structures, whether business or residential, are empty. There would be guidelines and definitions included in the final product.

The draft copy of the ordinance was sent by email to members of the EMAR Wednesday. The Enid News & Eagle received a copy of that email and also a copy of the draft drawn up by city hall.

Wilson said she’s amenable to changes, as long as the end result is the same.

“We want people to take care of their property,” she said.

Among the broad suggestions Wilson made in a previous interview was having owners pay a small fee to register when a building becomes vacant. The draft ordinance, which seems largely based on an Oklahoma City law, calls for an annual $200 registration fee for each property.

“It’s a fine,” said Tom Andrew, an Enid Realtor and district vice president of Oklahoma Association of Realtors.

Andrew said he opposes any kind of registry, a belief echoed by EMAR President Lisa Weaver. If adopted, she said the registry would be subject to open records laws.

“That could increase crime to these vacant properties,” Weaver said.

Weaver also noted the draft is vaguely written.

“We have houses that sit vacant for a month or up to a year before they’re sold. How do you determine whether a house is being marketed or not?” she asked.

Wilson’s ultimate goal is to toughen the laws on vacant, dilapidated structures. There already is a code office in place and restrictions on a property’s integrity and appearance.

“The thing is, you can enforce the code fine, but in some of these situations, you can’t even find people that own these houses because they don’t all live here,” Wilson said.

With the registry fee, she added, the city could place a legal hold on the property if it’s not paid.

“It’s not targeting people who are already following the rules. It’s targeting the people who are not following the rules,” Wilson said.

The Oklahoma Legislature could take up a bill this year to outright ban property registrations. That legislation, House Bill 2620, has been referred to committee and awaits a hearing. Andrew suggested the city commission at least wait to see if a registry even will be legal to enforce.

Weaver said a similar Oklahoma City ordinance is on thin ice, despite being adopted just last year.

“They are very unhappy with it, and they are actually trying to get that ordinance repealed,” she said.

Weaver and Andrew said the local real estate industry will be represented at the Feb. 20 commission meeting. Public comment typically is not allowed during the study sessions, but there is time reserved during the later commission meeting. The commission cannot vote during the study session.

“I have things I’d like to change, and I’m sure everybody else has things they’d like to change, but we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss it yet,” said Wilson. “That is not the Gospel, and people are getting way ahead of themselves on this deal.”