Blight ordinances?

Asked October 17, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT

Our township's zoning ordinance dates back to 1974. The only updates have been a wind energy section. We are getting a lot of complaints about blight and there is nothing in our current ordinance that defines blight, outlines enforcement, and creates a way for the township to be reimbursed for costs. A nearby township shared their ordinance. We are thinking of adopting something similar and are particularly interested in this paragraph: "Any person found responsible for blight shall eliminate such blight and shall be liable for the cost of elimination of the blight, including attorney fees incurred by the Township. If such blight is not eliminated by the responsible party, the Township may cause such blight to be eliminated and bill the cost to the responsible party. The cost of such blight elimination, if it is not voluntarily paid for by the responsible party, shall be assessed against the property on the next tax roll." Our current ordinance reads: SEC. 1900. VIOLATIONS: Any person, firm or corporation violating any of the provisions of this Ordinance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be subject to a fine of not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100.00) and the costs of prosecution or, in default of the payment thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period of ninety (90) days for each offense, or by both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court, together with the costs of such prosecution. The imposition of any sentence shall not exempt any offender from compliance with the provisions of this Ordinance. SEC. 1901. PUBLIC NUISANCE PER SE: Any building or structure which is erected, altered or converted, or any use of premises or land which is begun or changed subsequent to the time of passage of this Ordinance and in violation of any provision thereof is hereby declared to be a public nuisance per se, and may be abated by order of any court of competent jurisdiction. SEC. 1902. FINES, IMPRISONMENT: The owner of any building, structure or premises or part thereof, where any condition in violation of this Ordinance shall exist or shall be created, and who has assisted knowingly in the commission of such violation shall be guilty of a separate offense and upon conviction thereof shall be subject to a fine of not less than ten dollars ($10.00) and not more than one hundred dollars ($100.00) and the costs of prosecution or, in default of the payment thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not to exceed ninety (90) days for each offense, or by both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court, together with the costs of such prosecution. Can we change EVERYTHING to be enforced similar to the other township's blight ordinance, or does that only apply to blight situations? Thanks in advance, Lisa Valentine, Secretary Wisner Township Planning Commission

Tuscola County Michigan

1 Response

Concerning your question about blight (as in junk accumulated on the land) please review Land Use Series " How To Deal With Accumulated Junk Problems" (http://lu.msue.msu.edu/pamphlet/Zsp/AcrobatPamphletJUNK.PDF) (found at web page http://lu.msue.msu.edu/pamphlets.htm#Zjunk).

MSU Extension can offer a training program on accumulated junk which can be set up by contacting your local MSU Extension land use educator: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/land_use_education_services

If you are referring to blight (as in dilapidated building(s)) that is outside the jurisdiction of zoning. Issues concerning blighted buildings should be referred to and handled by construction code inspectors (state building code).

As to the enforcement language to use, I would recommend not using either one provided in your question. They both have serious problems. Much has changed since 1974, and there are many more options available for local government enforcement of local ordinances. It is wisest to have several options for enforcement available to use (not just one as quoted in the question), so one can select the most appropriate for the particular case. In Michigan there is now an enforcement system known as "civil infraction" which should be among the options available. It has many advantages (including low costs) and is often the most used alternative.

Review Land Use Series " How To Deal With Accumulated Junk Problems", toward the end it speaks about civil infraction enforcement, which is also applicable to other violation issues.

A question such as this, and work to update those enforcement provisions of zoning should be directed toward a lawyer who is experienced in municipal (planning and zoning) law (e.g., a member of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys, or a member of the public corporate law section of the Michigan Bar).

Also consider a full ordinance review. A zoning ordinance from 1974, with just the few amendments described, should be reviewed cover-to-cover in detail. There are likely other issues which need updating and could work against the township's enforcement efforts. An attorney described above, a professional planner, or MSU Extension Land Use Educator could critique the entire zoning ordinance for the township.