Uniformity – Benefits and Pitfalls

In the precarious and troublesome arena of blighted and abandoned properties, uniformity, best practices, and opportunity for improvement all compete for the attention of code officials, lawmakers and constituents.

Each community is defined by its unique residents, economic structure, size, social experiences, and needs.  Despite the uniqueness of each community, common problems have common solutions.  As such, uniformity and best practices should be a primary goal.

As an advocate of uniformity, I am of the general opinion to take advantage of best practices and efficiencies without ‘reinventing the wheel’.   Identifying, researching and applying best practices of ordinances from neighboring communities is one such example whereby uniformity can lead to efficiencies for city officials. As best practices and uniformity broaden, compliance will result because fewer exceptions lead to fewer errors.

Cities face two challenges regarding uniformity of existing vacant property registration ordinances – due diligence and execution. Communities that simply replicate an ordinance without proper due diligence can open itself a host of unexpected problems.  Many existing ordinances contain language creating a legal or social risk for the city and/or inadvertently create additional workload for overwhelmed and lean associates.

Perhaps one or both of these challenges led to the only state in the union to retract all vacant property ordinances in effect.  In 2014 Oklahoma passed HB 2620 known as the Protect Property Rights Act, prohibiting municipalities from implementing mandatory property registration programs and immediately repealing active ordinances in several cities across the state.

To a certain extent, one motivation behind the bill may be the impression registries act as a “profit center”, Some early adoption of registry programs were promoted as punishment to big banks and celebrated the cities ability to increase their revenues.  Those practices disappeared as the benefits of improved communication and safety and security for the neighbors came to the forefront.

Leading community development and housing experts discourage the creation of registries to serve as ‘profit centers’. Additional concerns regarding registration fees (the source of the revenue) prompted the introduction of new legislation in New York State.

Other concerns that prompted the legislation in Oklahoma are independently addressed and “debunked” by a 2018 piece from the Greater Ohio Policy Center, pertaining to vacant property registries.

For city officials and code enforcement officials outside of Oklahoma, avoid assumptions regarding neighboring registries and seek guidance from tenured experts who can help maximize the effectiveness of your program by leveraging the benefits of uniformity appropriately.

For communities in Oklahoma, sometimes being the “exception” to the rule is not optimal. Perhaps, residents, first responders, and code enforcement staff in Tulsa would be in a better position and better equipped to combat their abandoned properties.