West Virginia Towns Seek State Help in Blight Battle By Accessing Insurance Settlements

September 10, 2013

Municipalities in West Virginia are asking lawmakers for help in their battle against blight.

A resolution endorsed by the West Virginia Municipal League earlier this year at its annual conference seeks an amendment to the statutory lien requirement that would give municipalities access to insurance settlements. They would use the money to recoup the costs of cleaning up properties declared a total loss.

Under current law, any money obtained from liens filed against vacant and dilapidated is not enough to pay for the razing the structures, Philippi Mayor Jerry Mouser said.

“For example, a dilapidated house burns down,” Mouser told The Exponent Telegram. “The owners collect the insurance, and the city has to go in and clean the mess up.

“All we can do is file a lien, and the cleanup cost is more than we can get out of vacant property,” Mouser added. “The taxpayer gets the expense.”

Buckhannon Mayor Kenny Davidson said his city cannot recoup anything until a property is sold.

“If our lien would trump a deed of trust and other tax liens, that would help us a lot and would put the ball in our court,” he told the newspaper.

Clarksburg City Councilwoman Margaret Bailey said the proposed lien amendment would put the cleanup responsibility back on property owners and real estate companies.

“One of the biggest problems that the cities are confronting right now is the demolition of buildings in slum and blighted areas,” Bailey told the newspaper. “Smaller cities do not have funds to address this.”

The resolution also calls for creation of state grant funds to help local governments pay the costs of razing or rehabilitating dilapidated and vacant buildings.

“I think it would help a lot,” Weston City Manager Michelle Allen said about the proposed grant program. “We don’t have a lot of funding to do a lot about dilapidated housing. We can take down some of them.”

But Delegate Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison, said there might not be any state money available to create a grant program.

“Financially, I don’t think it looks very optimistic,” Iaquinta told the newspaper.

Mouser said any help from the state would be appreciated.

“All through West Virginia, especially in the small cities, you’re going to find there’s a lot of derelict housing, and you’re going to find that a lot these derelict houses are absentee,” Mouser said.

The resolution also proposes requiring mortgage loan services to maintain vacant, foreclosed-upon properties. It will be presented to lawmakers in January.

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