Bill to Seize 'Slum Lord' Assets Moves to Senate

Bill targeting blighted properties moves to Senate


As a sweeping blight-fighting bill moves slowly through the state Legislature, it has come under increasing fire from landlords and mortgage lenders.

Senate Bill 900 cleared the state Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this week, but some proponents worry the bill may be watered down.

“If there is no asset attachment and no permit denials in the bill, you might as well not even pass it. There’s nothing there,” Jeri Stumpf, a member of the statewide Blight Task Force who authored parts of the bill, said this week. “The asset attachment is critical. It affects everybody’s lives and everybody’s pocketbooks.”

Supporters of the measure argue blight has become an increasing problem across the state, with dilapidated buildings posing dangers to the community and driving down property values for neighbors.

The bill was introduced last year by state Sen. David Argall, R-29. It was conceived by the late Sen. James J. Rhoades, whose seat Argall claimed after Rhoades died as a result of injuries suffered in an October 2008 car accident. Argall won the seat in a March 2009 special election.

A key component of the bill would allow municipalities and county courts to go after absentee landlords’ other assets. If a local government must raze or repair a property because of unsafe conditions, the cost could be recouped by attacking the owner’s financial assets or other physical properties. Municipalities could garnish wages or seize property to pay for repairs or demolition.

Landlords across the state oppose that measure, fearing municipalities may grab assets to pay for unimportant aesthetic repairs, such as someone’s lawn not being up to code.

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