Town prepares to adopt unsafe structures ordinance

by Trish Rudder

Unsafe buildings in the Town of Bath are in the process of being addressed with an amended ordinance that provides a process to identify, inspect, correct and remove unsafe structures.

The ordinance also ensures adequate notice to the owners of the structures while protecting the public from any danger due to unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

At the March 5 town council meeting, Mayor Scott Merki said the draft ordinance was approved by the town’s attorney, Richard Gay.

“Everything looks good,” Merki said. He said he needed to learn more about a possible pamphlet describing the building code, and he would talk with Gay about how to do that.

Town recorder and Ordinance chair Susan Webster said on Friday that Merki learned from Gay that “what we are proposing with this ordinance is not considered a building ‘code,’ and therefore does not require a pamphlet to be produced and distributed.”

Webster said the proposed ordinance will be available at Town Hall for the public to review.

A public notice about the proposed changes has to run in the newspaper and two public hearings will be held for the ordinance to pass.

Webster said the council will decide on the two hearing dates at the March 19 council meeting.

According to the ordinance, the town shall designate an enforcement agency consisting of “the mayor, the municipal engineer or building inspector and one member at large, to be selected by and to serve at the will and pleasure of the mayor, and the ranking health officer and fire chief who shall serve as ex officio members of the enforcement agency.”

To determine if a structure is unsafe, unsanitary, dangerous, or detrimental to the public safety or welfare and to determine and enforce the appropriate remedy for any such structure, the enforcement agency officials are entitled to make inspections, perform investigations, obtain search warrants, issue notices, require corrective measures, present complaints to the municipal judge, and exercise all powers and duties authorized by the state code § 8-12-16, the ordinance said.

The owner of any dwelling or building that the enforcement agency determines to be unsafe, “shall be required to pay for the costs of repairing, altering, improving, vacating, closing, removing, or demolishing” such dwelling or building, the ordinance said.

On December 20, 2016 the town passed an ordinance based on West Virginia Code §8-12-16, which gave the town the authority to issue fines to the owners of unsafe structures or place liens on the property that does not meet minimum housing standards. The ordinance was never enforced because a building inspector was never selected.

“We need this to move forward,” Merki said at the March 5 council meeting.