Dominick Calsolaro

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Albany panel takes steps on oversight of vacant city buildings

$10,000 bond would protect city after structures are demolished

Published on 12/07/2011 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer

ALBANY — The Common Council's law committee Wednesday night unanimously backed a proposal that would require owners of vacant buildings to post at least a $10,000 bond to protect the city against the costs of stabilizing or demolishing the vulnerable structures.

Councilman Dominick Calsolaro introduced the measure in August in the wake of the emergency razing of Trinity Church in the South End, a massive undertaking that left the city with an unpaid $141,000 demolition bill.

In addition to requiring the owners of vacant buildings to post a security with the city, Calsolaro said the measure would further strengthen Albany's registry of vacant buildings by requiring owners to put their phone and social security numbers as well as copy of their divers licenses on file with the city.

Under the registry, building owners already face an escalating scale of fees for each year they keep the building vacant.

But despite an existing requirement for out-of-town property owners to list local agent responsible for the building, the city has at times struggled to reach their owners after the structures have burned or begun to crumble.

The city can already unilaterally move to demolish a building deemed a threat to public safety and later bill the owner for the costs. But if those bills — often in the tens of thousands of dollars — go unpaid, they are added to the taxes and, if still unpaid, can result in the county foreclosing on the property.

The new legislation pegs the minimum bond at $10,000, but Calsolaro said it would be up to city officials to determine the appropriate amount for individual buildings. It sets no maximum.

Director of Building and Codes Jeffery Jamison said his department would rely on the plans property owners are required to file with the city when they register a vacant building to determine the appropriate bond amount, likely pegging the bond to whatever the owner estimates the cost of rehabilitation or demolition will be.

But Jamison said property owners would also have to offer evidence from an engineer or architect supporting the figure to prevent them from submitting an unrealistically low number.

That was the case with Trinity Church, which was not on the registry. A Bronx woman bought the 163-year-old historic church from the county at auction for $500 while offering only a vague plan that estimated it would cost just $30,000 to rehab it into a cultural center. The city has since taken her to court.

Calsolaro said he may ask the full council to vote on the ordinance as soon as Dec. 19.