Residents who want to report a property or building that is run down can write a letter to both the Building Department and the Department of Public Safety, according to Building Department director John Bongino.
Bongino said that once his department receives a complaint, a file is opened on the building in question. A building inspector is sent to take a look, and the property owner is notified of anything that needs doing.
Public Safety handles matters relating to the appearance of properties, such as uncut grass, Bongino said, while the Building Department takes action on issues of safety involving the buildings themselves and compliance with codes.
"There is no exact timeline for a property owner to comply but if they are moving toward compliance, obviously we give them more time," Bongino said. "That's what we're looking for."
He said these matters are considered on a case-by-case basis, and much depends on the attitude of each property owner.
If a problem persists, either department may issue appearance tickets.
Bongino said his department doesn't receive many complaints from residents themselves. Public Safety hears more from people in residential neighborhoods who are unhappy with the appearance of nearby properties, according to investigation division supervisor Joe Nowotny.
Nowotny said his department follows the same due process upon receiving a complaint - an investigator visits the site, usually the day after the complaint is received, and a search for the property owner of record is conducted through the Lexis Nexis program.
"They could be out of state, gone, dead - there's a myriad of things" that can make contact with the owner difficult or impossible, said Nowotny. The next step is to go to the bank that holds the mortgage. Nowotny said it usually takes a summons to see any action on the bank's part, however once the bank owns a property, as is often the outcome with all the foreclosures in recent years, "that usually solves the problem."
If the problem isn't solved this way, the town takes the owner or mortgage holder to court in order to force action, barring any safety hazards which allow the town to go right in and make the necessary fixes.
Nowotny said the number of complaints has risen significantly in the last four years, and that the properties in question are usually in the process of foreclosure.
"You've got people walking away from houses," he said. "We even had a bank going into bankruptcy."