Unkempt businesses

by Kathy
(Rossford, OH, USA)

How do you get a business owner to take some pride in their property and make it look presentable.

We have a business owner who has a whole block full of buildings. He uses his buildings to store all his junk, and it is visible from the street/sidewalk.

He was offered a matching grant to fix up his property, but won't even consider it. We are trying to clean up our little city, and have started some downtown beautification with new street lights/ lamp posts. But his buildings detract from the whole downtown.

Editors' Reply:

This is actually a rather common problem, believe it or not.

If you have laws to support it, the first answer should be to employ code enforcement to the maximum extent possible.

If a property maintenance code is in place, this problem can be cleared up with persistence and a sympathetic municipal judge.

As we've indicated elsewhere on this site, including when we talked about abandoned buildings, sometimes a town may have to take the drastic action of attempting to buy out the uncooperative owner.

I'm guessing that if you are a "little city," it would be hard for the government to come up with the money to do that. However, you can start looking around for a sympathetic investor who might have an actual good use for this commercial property!

Look into your state laws too. Each state grants a different level of authority to cities for dealing with situations such as this. Some would even allow condemnation of one or more buildings if the situation is a major eyesore.

Alternatively, you might be able to create a community improvement district, business improvement district, or some other type of special district for your downtown. Over time, it might accumulate enough money to purchase this real estate.

In the meantime, if the owner is a local resident, keep it friendly but continue to make it known that this situation isn't acceptable. See if you can find a sympathetic spouse, cousin, or adult child, and use persuasion on them if the owner isn't responsive.

Also remember to offer to assist with the work of removing the junk. Some hoarders and people who just have accumulated lots of stuff have a psychological issue, and others are just logically overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the clean-up task.

If you have an overwhelmed property owner, it's certainly worth asking if they would like help. We suspect not, but it's worth a try.

This issue could have a zoning solution as well, if you have a zoning ordinance already in place. Since you are sophisticated enough to have a matching grant program for facade improvement, we would guess there is some kind of zoning.

Is the zoning for that block appropriate, if you're being objective and not thinking about the ugliness of the particular buildings? Or should storage be prohibited as the primary use of the building?

What about outdoor storage? Does your zoning address the extent of outdoor storage permitted?

Let your question lead you into asking ultimately more important questions about your community. For instance, why would your land values downtown be so low that someone would feel they could afford to keep property there just for storage?

As you see if you follow some of the links in our answer, we believe in getting tough on property owners who won't maintain their real estate and who are detracting from your downtown.

After all, small town character doesn't demand perfection, but it does demand a critical mass of nice-looking buildings.

If someone is taking up a block in a "little city," that's too significant to ignore.

Lastly, be aware that in almost all instances, these sorts of things resolve themselves in time. However, the "solution" may be that one or more of the buildings become so dilapidated they have to be demolished. Then you have a whole different problem, because you have a row of buildings that looks as though it has a missing tooth. Not pretty.

So do persist in trying to solve the problem of the junky looking building.

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