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Hall County considers registry for vacant property
Weeds threaten to overgrow 3724 Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville.

Lawns overgrown, graffiti, structures falling apart are just some of the problems Hall County marshals face.

Finding the owners of the properties can be nearly impossible, but marshals may get a new tool soon.

County commissioners are considering an ordinance that would create a registry of contact people for these residential and commercial buildings. This would allow county staff to contact owners or agents to take care of code violations and unsafe conditions.

Andre Niles, captain of the marshal’s office, said he receives about 20 calls a week about these problem sites.

“Most of them have code violations,” Niles said. “Either they’re unsecured or dilapidated, everything from open to just bad for the community.”

Sometimes children go into these buildings, and thieves steal copper wires and any appliances. They’re left as just a shell that the county has to deal with.

“Especially on foreclosures, (you don’t know) how many times it has changed hands,” Niles said. “On your dilapidated properties, how many heirs to the property if the owner’s deceased.”

Owners and agents of foreclosed property would have 30 days under the ordinance to register with the Hall County Marshal’s Office. People responsible for vacant housing, which is defined as no one lawfully living there and no utility usage for 60 days or only partially built, also have to register.

Contact people must submit the owner’s name, address, phone number, fax number and email address. Registration also includes any agent’s contact information, the property’s address, tax parcel number and transfer date.

The banks are the hardest to track down, Niles said.

“Who do you write the citation to for the violations,” Niles asked. “The bank president? No. The branch manager? That’s what you get into.”

The marshals have to find the person who can appear in court. Otherwise, there’s no bite to the ordinance, Niles said.

Foreclosed property has been taken over by crime, Commissioner Craig Lutz said. The registry will help the county maintain these structures. It will make things more efficient and keep property values high.

“It will give us, the county, the opportunity to be able to locate the person who now is responsible for the property to get whatever the conditions are fixed,” Lutz said. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to find, in today’s environment, who the responsible party is.”

The cost to register the property is $100. Failure to register may be fined up to $1,000 per occurrence.

Foreclosed houses and commercial establishments are still around even though the numbers have declined since the economic downturn, said Marty Nix, Hall County assistant administrator.

“It’s still an issue, still a problem,” Nix said. “We can pick up the phone and give them a call, instead of having to track somebody down, hoping that they will respond.”

The county has a Neighborhood Stabilization Program that can possibly use these properties. The county buys homes, rehabilitates them and sells them to new owners. It’s funded by a federal grant through the state’s Department of Community Affairs.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners is expected to take a final vote on the ordinance today.

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