Bill targest problem properties

GREENFIELD — Local officials hope a new law will help clean up the city.

Senate Bill 415, which took effect July 1, overhauls Indiana’s sales tax system and gives cities more tools to deal with problem properties — especially those sitting empty and uncared for.

Local officials say they’re still researching the law to learn what impact it will have on Greenfield, but they’re encouraged the General Assembly took steps to fight abandoned and vacant properties that can create eyesores in a community.

Signed into law May 6 by Gov. Mike Pence, the 56-page bill enacts a variety of changes, including a provision that allows cities and towns to offer a tax break to property owners who rehabilitate problem properties.

It also enables new buyers to acquire the deeds for abandoned and vacant properties sooner. Previously, when buyers purchased properties at tax sales in Indiana, they had to wait 120 days to a year before obtaining the deed.

At any time during that waiting period, the original owner could pay off delinquent taxes and take back ownership of the property. Lawmakers said that redemption period kept new buyers from making any immediate improvements to the property.

Now, buyers take ownership of the property immediately, meaning work to spruce up houses that have been neglected and fallen into disrepair can start sooner.

Additionally, if the minimum bid for an abandoned or vacant property is not met at the tax sale, the law allows city or county officials to claim ownership of the property and tear it down if they so choose.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said anything the Legislature can do to make the process of dealing with abandoned homes easier is a welcome change.

“I hope this allows us a little more freedom and quickness in the process,” he said. “The quicker we can get (abandoned properties) cleaned up, the better.”

In the past, it took the city as long as two years to demolish abandoned and vacant homes because of all the legal hoops officials had to jump through first, Fewell said.

City planner Joanie Fitzwater was happy to hear about the tax deduction offered to those willing to help.

Under previous law, residential property that had been rehabilitated might have qualified for a property tax deduction under certain conditions, but the deducation was available for five years only and was limited to $18,720 per rehabilitated property.

Now, the law allows cities, counties or towns to increase the term to 15 years for abandoned and vacant properties.

The new law might result in a greater number of abandoned or vacant homes being rehabilitated, Fitzwater said.

“I’m all for anything that helps keep these responsibilities in the hands of the homeowner,” she said.

Taking ownership of abandoned properties is a difficult step for city officials, who know they were at one point someone’s home, she added.

A tax deduction might encourage property owners to clean up their homes instead of leaving them for the city to contend with, Fitzwater said.

Tax credits already are given to those who develop new housing; it makes sense to also offer some type of incentive to existing homeowners to make improvements, she said.

Altogether, it seems the bill could be helpful to Greenfield, she said.

“If it removes some of the obstacles, that’s wonderful,” she said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.