The vacant and boarded houses that once dotted Salt Lake City's landscape are slowly disappearing as the local economy improves. Property owners are finding they can sell or rent once again - happy to turn a tidy profit despite the misery they have caused.
Empty houses do great harm to the pride and psyche of a community. That is why Salt Lake City would be wise to pass an ordinance aimed at punishing this kind of land-banking if the economy goes bad again.This page supported Mayor Deedee Corradini seven months ago when she announced in general terms what such an ordinance would require. The details included in the measure that now awaits City Council approval seem prudent.
If passed, the ordinance would require property owners to pay nearly $500 in initial fees and $310 per year for boarding up a vacant home. The actual initial cost would vary slightly according to the size of the building. If an owner failed to get the proper permit before boarding, the fees would double.
Property owners also would have to maintain the roof and the exterior of each building, and they would have to keep the yard neat and the sidewalks free of snow.
As the city learned in recent years, houses that sit vacant lower the value of all surrounding properties. They also lower the morale of neighbors who take pride in their homes. They attract vandals and graffiti.
When Corradini was elected, about 250 abandoned houses were scattered throughout the city. Unfortunately, many of the people who owned these buildings had a strategy of letting them sit for years until the economy improved. The city did nothing to dissuade them and required no permits.
The proposed ordinance won't keep people from boarding houses when the economy turns sour again some day. Many will calculate that the final reward is worth a yearly fee.
But at least it will make them think twice, and it will force them to return part of the city's cost of handling the problems associated with abandoned buildings.