Peabody is using a state tool to bring abandoned and dilapidated homes into compliance with city sanitary codes.
The city last summer joined Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Abandoned Housing Initiative, a program that works with communities to seek court-appointed receivers to bring blighted houses up to code if the owners are unwilling or unable to do so.
The city in October compiled an initial list of 12 properties for the program. As a first step, the attorney general’s office has been working with the city’s code inspectors to locate the owners of record and attempt to get them to fix their properties.
The targeted houses, according to to Christopher Ryder, Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s chief of staff, are 2, 4, and 6 Broadmoor Lane; 6 Overlea Ave., 83 Winona St.; 31 Forest St.; 25 Dudley St.; 14 Shillaber St.; 11 Holten St.; 4 Hancock St.; 188 Lake St.; and 2 Ethel Ave.
“Abandoned homes are not just unsightly but they pose a real threat to public safety,” Bettencourt said in a prepared statement. “The vast majority of homeowners take good care to maintain their property and should not be penalized or put in danger by those who are either unable or unwilling to do the same.”
Since the program was expanded in 2009, receivers have been assigned in 51 cases statewide. Another 197 cases have been closed after properties were repaired and brought up to code by owners in response to pressure from the attorney general’s office.
The office currently has 222 active cases in 30 cities and towns, including Andover, Chelsea, Dracut, Everett, Haverhill, Medford, Merrimac, Methuen, Revere, Salisbury, Saugus, Somerville, Tewksbury, Wilmington, and Woburn, in addition to Peabody.
“We are pleased that Peabody has joined our program and look forward to working with Mayor Bettencourt to reduce blight and revitalize properties and neighborhoods in Peabody,” Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for Coakley, said by e-mail.
Peabody enlisted in the program after the attorney general’s office contacted the city as part of an outreach effort, according to Ryder. He said the mayor concluded the initiative, which is offered at no charge to communities, would be a good vehicle for fixing up dilapidated houses.
“As early as when he took office, he was hearing from neighbors . . . discouraged by abandoned and dilapidated properties,” Ryder said of the mayor. “You take the initiative to take care of your own property, but when someone else doesn’t, you feel powerless.”
The Abandoned Housing Initiative is for residential properties, but on a limited case-by-case basis a property with a mix of residential and other use can be included. All targeted properties must be vacant.
Although receivership is an option, it is considered a last resort if efforts to get the property owners to address deficiencies are not successful.
Ryder said the 12 initial properties in Peabody were identified by city building, health, and fire inspectors, with help from the Office of Community Development and the Police Department. The properties all were in disrepair and their owners had not responded to attempts to address the violations.
On Nov. 13, staff from the attorney general’s office came to Peabody to tour the sites of the 12 homes on the city’s target list, according to Ryder.
After that, it initiated title searches to determine the owners of the properties, and began sending demand letters to those owners requiring them to bring their properties into compliance with the state sanitary code.
On Jan. 7, an official in the attorney general’s office e-mailed the city that it was approaching the point of being able to file some court petitions for receivers. In an e-mail sent three days earlier, the official said a bank had expressed interest in making repairs to one of the properties.
A receiver can be an individual or an organization, generally with construction and/or rehabilitation experience, and preferably with ties to the community. Once appointed by the court, the receiver is responsible for carrying out the repairs needed to bring the property up to code.
To secure payment of costs incurred in repairing, maintaining, or managing the property, the receiver has the right to a “super lien” on the property, which has priority over all other liens or mortgages except municipal liens. The receiver also can raise funds through other means, including renting individual units to tenants.
Ryder said that if the program proves successful, the city will look to identify other properties in disrepair.