This week, I’m including a recent update from the regular session of the 2017 West Virginia Legislature. The following information is a condensed version provided by the West Virginia Municipal League.

Home Rule C.S. SB 441-Passed. The purpose of this bill is to establish the municipal home rule pilot program as a permanent program. This would allow all municipalities to participate in the program. As of this newsletter the Governor vetoed the bill. The WVML is seeking to have the bill placed on special call before the Legislature.

Uniform Dilapidated Buildings Process – C.S. SB 631-Passed. Municipalities had required an amendment to WV Code 8-12-16 to provide cities with clarification of what constitutes a dilapidated and/or unsafe structure permitting or requiring action by the municipality and, in those cases, express authority and guidelines, including standards for Constitutional notice, due process for property owners, gaining lawful access to inspect unsafe structures, and addressing procedures required before demolition of an unsafe structure, to streamline the process of abating public safety hazards and attractive nuisances.

It is often very difficult for municipalities to get the legally responsible person of an unsafe, dilapidated, abandoned structure to either rehabilitate or demolish the structure. Although the municipality may have the option of proceeding to circuit court, that process imposes additional time and expense on municipalities and the court, and may also result in unnecessary harm to the public that could and should be resolved in a more efficient and expedient manner. For example, under existing law when a house sustains fire damage and has been abandoned, the municipality must either get written consent from the owner or, arguably, get an Order from a circuit court before it can take down the structure and abate the public safety hazard. If a municipality can’t identify or contact the owner, or if there are multiple owners (often located in different states), then the process to abate the public hazard is stalled and can sometimes take years to resolve.

The proposed definitions, clarifications and streamlined process have been developed through cooperation of the West Virginia Municipal League, the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office, and the WVU Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic. These amendments will provide appropriate definitions, guidelines and process for municipalities to deal with this serious and escalating public safety problem.
In closing, God Bless America and all Memorial Day Services, Ceremonies, and other activities that serve to remind us of the extraordinary good fortune we possess, to live in the greatest of all Nations. Regardless of our many differences and, in fact, to a great extent, because of our many differences, may we never forget how blessed we are to be called Americans.

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