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Moorestown Council approves ordinances on abandoned properties and open space encroachments on first reading

At the last Moorestown Council meeting in March, an ordinance on abandoned properties and open space encroachment was set aside to be split into two separate ordinances. Those ordinances were reintroduced at the April 13 Moorestown Council meeting.

Council passed both ordinances on first reading unanimously at last week’s meeting. The second reading of these ordinances will be at the April 27 council meeting at 7:30 p.m in Town Hall.

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The ordinance on abandoned and vacant properties includes amendments to definitions, regulations for vacant properties and abandoned properties, and violations.

The ordinance defines a vacant home as “any building used or to be used as a residence which is not legally occupied or… all lawful construction operations or residential occupancy has ceased, and which is in such condition that it cannot legally be reoccupied without repair or rehabilitation.”

An abandoned home is one that has not been legally occupied for six months and includes: a need of rehabilitation that hasn’t taken place for six months; construction that was discontinued for six months; at least one tax payment that is unpaid or delinquent; or the property has been deemed a nuisance.

According to the ordinance, the property owner is given 30 days after the building became vacant, 30 days after they assume ownership of the vacant property or 10 days after a receipt of notice from Moorestown to file a registration with the township clerk.

The registration includes information for a person designated by the owners as the one to receive notices of code violations and legal notices for the property, as well as information for the designated person to maintain the property. One or both of these people can be the property owner.

They will be responsible for securing the property and posting signs informing people the property is vacant. Fines for violations are between $100 and $1,000.

The initial registration fee for each building will be $500, with a $1,500 renewal fee, a $3,000 fee for a second renewal, and a $5,000 fee for each renewal after that.

The registration shall remain valid for one year, and the owner shall be required to renew the registration annually as long as the building remains a vacant property.

A public officer will be appointed to oversee abandoned properties, and will create and maintain a list of them.

Once a property is established as abandoned, the public officer will send a notice to the owner on record to inform them their property has been declared abandoned, or post notice on the property if the owner is unknown.

If the designated person fails to maintain and keep up a vacant and abandoned property, a notice shall be sent out, requiring the person or entity to correct the violation within 30 days of receipt. There will be a $1,500 fine for each day of violation.

The officer can choose to repair, alter, improve or demolish an abandoned property. Moorestown would have the power to seize the property and put it up for tax sale.

The ordinance on encroachments into public open space land amended some definitions, established violations and inserted enforcements.

Definitions included encroachment, dumping, township easement and township open space. Encroachment is defined as “any unauthorized activity on township open space or township easement, unless specifically permitted pursuant to the written terms of the easement, that causes damage or alteration to the land, vegetation, drainage, groundwater or other features thereon or restricts the use thereof” and then lists items including playsets, walls, roads, trimming trees and more.

No person may encroach or cause another person to encroach on township open space or township easement without the express written permission of the Township Council. Without obtaining express written permission from the Township Council, the township may institute an action to halt or remedy such encroachment.

The zoning officer shall be responsible for enforcement of the provisions. If a violation occurs, and a property owner does not remove or contract for the removal of the violation within 45 days of the date of notice of violation, the zoning officer shall cause a citation to be issued with a penalty up to $500 for each day the violation continues.

The township may, at its discretion, remove or contract for the removal of the encroachment from the township property or public right of way, the cost of which shall be the responsibility of the property owner and shall be assessed as a lien against the property owner on which the encroachment originated.

For full information on amendments of these ordinances, go to the township website at www.moorestown.nj.us and under the Town Council tab, click Agendas and Minutes where the April 13 agenda can be found with links to the full ordinances.


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