Mayor Michael W. Tucker hopes a new law the city is planning to enact will make it easier to tear down burned-out houses.
The law doesn't seem to have anything to do with demolition at first blush. It says the city can place a lien against fire insurance payments to a homeowner if there are any unpaid property taxes on the burned-out house.
But Tucker said last week, "Now we'll get the insurance money before anything else, so we can pay to knock [the house] down."
Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley explained that the city can use the lien to force the homeowner to make repairs to a fire-damaged property or tear it down if it can't be saved.
Corporation Council John J. Ottaviano said if taxes are outstanding, the city treasurer is to file a certificate with the state superintendent of insurance placing a lien on the homeowner's insurance proceeds.
Ottaviano said the law allows the city to negotiate an agreement with the homeowner, who must agree to use the insurance money to repair or demolish the home. If the homeowner doesn't do that, the city can prevent him from ever receiving his insurance payment.
The text of the new law says the city can allow the insurance money to be placed in an escrow account or posted as a performance bond to ensure that the work the city wants is done.
The city could end up with the money "if [the owner] doesn't do what he's supposed to," City Clerk Richard P. Mullaney said.
City officials have been frustrated in recent years by several incidents in which fire-damaged homes were neither repaired nor demolished, while the owner pocketed insurance payments.
The city had to plow through piles of legal red tape to win the right to demolish some of the homes. Problem locations have included Elm Court, Outwater Drive and Washburn Street.
Ottaviano said the new law only applies to a home on which there are unpaid property taxes. He said he's researching a companion law that would apply to burned-out homes whose taxes are current.
The Common Council held a hearing on the new law last week, but no one showed up to speak. A vote is expected in January.