by Terry Rogers
In 2017, the City of Milford released the results of a survey conducted by the National Research Center that measured the livability of Milford. Residents identified code enforcement as an area that needed improvement. At the time Eric Norenberg, City Manager, said that the City took steps to improve code enforcement with additional inspections, follow-up processes and other strategies.
“One area that has helped us over the past year is a change to our tax collection process,” Norenberg said recently. “Many of the properties with multiple code violations were also behind in taxes. What we have found is that when people are able to get caught up, they also begin to correct problems with their home. However, there are some that we have been dealing with for many years and we have stepped up our enforcement.”
On Monday, April 23, Rob Pierce, City Planner, requested appropriation of $21,000 in order to demolish a home at 112 Southeast Front Street. The home was seriously damaged by fire in 2013 and a building permit on the house expired in 2014. Council approved the appropriation and the City sent the owner a Declaration, Notice of Violation and Orders to Demolish because it was unsafe and unfit for human occupancy. It has been condemned since 2015.
“Once the owner learned that the City had appropriated money to demolish the structure, they soon came in and signed a restoration agreement,” Pierce said at the May 14 City Council meeting during a presentation on code enforcement efforts. “The restoration agreement outlines milestones for stages of remediation. The outside we are hoping to have done in a few months and we have given them a few more months to complete the inside. If the building is demolished, a lien will be placed on the land so that the City may recover the cost of demolition.”
Pierce explained that this property was the second oldest property on the list of extremely old code violations. Only one was on the code violation list longer, Young’s Funeral Home at 309 North Street. Pierce explained that the property was condemned many years ago and that it was in the Downtown Development District. The property was sold through the tax monitions process and the City anticipated that the new owner would soon begin renovations.
During the presentation, Pierce presented photos of various homes in Milford with code violations that were unaddressed for many years, many of which had been rectified in the past year due to increased enforcement by the City. A home on Marshall Street that needed roofing and siding work for more than ten years was recently rehabilitated. An owner on West Street committed to taking down a condemned property. According to Pierce, a resident who had lived in the community told him that a home on McColley Street, which had recently been sold, was in disrepair when he “was a child 40 years ago.” A home on South Washington Street that had a boogie board nailed on a front window is scheduled for demolition within the next few weeks.
“Several of these properties are in the foreclosure state,” Pierce explained. “These are probably the most difficult because they are still in the process and it is difficult to determine if it is owner-owned or the bank now has possession. It’s hard to nail someone down or even talk to about repairs. One of the things I wanted to highlight as part of this, we are trying to do this report quarterly. We’ve had some success and we’re very enthusiastic about the progress we have made. We have more and more investors coming in to look at the town and we are sharing this list with them. Many are not necessarily listed for sale so that is why having a presentation like this will help. I also think the tax monitions and the finance office have helped as well along with the DDD, an improving economy and our following through with notices. We are also using some new policies we’ve developed to assist homeowners.”
Norenberg echoed what Pierce said about the tax monitions process combined with stricter code enforcement. He also indicated that contracting an outside agency to conduct rental inspections was helping Milford’s one code official to focus on owner-occupied properties.
“People are coming in and taking a look at the status of their homeownership,” Norenberg said. “We also had a great article in Delaware Business Times focusing on our downtown development district that highlighted commercial successes downtown. The article also highlighted residential problems being addressed leading to more people moving downtown. There were a few homes on Causey Avenue that were listed for sale, not because the people wanted to move, but because there were some houses in the neighborhood with issues. Now that those houses are in the process of being remodeled, those other homeowners have taken their houses off the market.”
Pierce said that if anyone in the community wanted more information on code enforcement or investing in properties identified in the list presented to Council, they could reach him by calling 302-424-8396. Code violations may be reported through the online form.
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.