Moorestown takes first step toward addressing abandoned houses

Township Manager Thomas Neff introduced the town’s plan to formally publish a list of abandoned properties.

There’s one in nearly every Moorestown neighborhood, according to Councilman Michael Locatell. Lawns overgrown, structures in need of repair and at times, occupied by wildlife, Moorestown’s abandoned houses have sat vacant long enough, and the township is taking action to address these unoccupied homes.

At the most recent meeting of Moorestown Township Council, Township Manager Thomas Neff introduced the town’s plan to formally publish a list of abandoned properties. The list is the first step in a process that will give Moorestown the authority to ensure proper upkeep and maintenance of abandoned homes.

Neff said the list has been established largely on a voluntary basis and approximately 50 homes have been identified. He said while Moorestown’s abandoned housing problem may be small compared to other towns where nearly 10 percent of homes are abandoned, the homes are still cause for concern.

“It’s a very serious problem for those people who live next to them,” Neff said.

The township still has a few steps to take before the list is finalized. Neff said township staff need to visit each of the properties they’ve identified one more time and document that the home is, indeed, vacant and meets all of the criteria that constitute an “abandoned property.”

As soon as they have that documentation, the township will publish the list in a newspaper and let owners know by registered mail their property is on the list. Neff said the hope is that when property owners see their house on the list, they will want to take action and do regular maintenance on the property.

“Once that list is adopted, the municipality will have additional powers to sort of bring to bear to make sure those properties are maintained in a way such that they’re not a danger to the community and so they’re getting rehabilitated,” Neff said.

Any homeowner on the list will have to write to the township to appeal. From there, staff will take a second look at the property and make sure it’s appropriately on the list, Neff said.

Councilman Manuel Delgado said placing a property on the list motivates about 90 percent of the people to actually do something with their property.

“I think it’s really a great first step to let folks know something needs to be done or further action will be taken,” Delgado said.

If home owners continue to neglect the property, the town can — at a later date — take steps to enter the property, perform repairs and charge the owner. The town could potentially acquire the property after a court filing and homeowners could even face fines as high as $1,250 for properties that do not comply, according to Neff.

Locatell clarified the list is “fluid,” and properties can be added or taken off as needed.

Neff said he welcomes residents to review the list and reach out to the office of community development if they know of an abandoned property. He said adopting the list won’t necessarily be a fast process, but the township is eager to take this first step.

“It will be slow and thoughtful and deliberate, but make no mistake, we truly understand the neighbors’ issues and want to have them resolved,” Neff said.

The next meeting of Moorestown Township Council will take place on Monday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.