Channel 13 did a very in-depth report on the number of vacant homes that are scattered across the city of Albuquerque.
The report went as far to say that many of the residences become magnets for crime that neighbors say is spilling onto their streets, creating a danger to nearby kids and families.
It was reported that in 2016 alone more than 1,300 vacant homes were added to the City of Albuquerque’s Vacant Building Registry.
This year so far, nearly 500 vacant homes were added to the city’s registry which does not t include vacant homes that exist within the city not on the city’s list.
A conservative estimate is that there are about 3,000 vacant homes and not including vacant commercial buildings.
Now we have my own Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson coming to the rescue in a re- election year introducing a resolution to create a seven-member task force to try and address the vacant home problem.
Gibson claims “other than zoning enforcement which is weeds and litter and that type of thing, we don’t have a lot of influence”.
Gibson is simply not telling the truth when she says the city does not have a lot of influence when in fact there are many civil remedies available to the city.
According to Gibson, she wants her “task force” to come up with recommendation for solutions and recommendations to the problem of vacant residential properties.
A task force to study the problem is nothing but a waste of people’s time by a City Councilor who has failed her constituents and one that needs to be voted out of office.
During the last four (4) years, Gibson’s constituents have complained repeatedly about the numerous vacant homes in her district.
Gibson has told her constituents at a neighborhood association meeting to their shock she cannot do anything about the numerous vacant and boarded up homes declared and posted substandard in her district.
The truth is that Gibson could introduce condemnation resolutions to force property owners to do something about their properties or instruct the City Attorney’s Office to file Nuisance Abatement Actions, but she refuses to act.
Each city councilor is given $1 million out of the general fund to designate for use on projects in their districts and the money could be used for tear-downs.
SAFE CITY STRIKE FORCE WAS THE SOLUTION
In 2002, the Safe City Strike Force was formed to combat blighted commercial and residential properties.
Thirty (30) to forty-five (40) representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, the Albuquerque Fire Department, the Fire Marshal’s Office, the Planning Department Code residential and commercial code inspectors, Family Community Services and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office participated comprised the strike force.
Seventy (70) to one hundred fifty (150) properties a week, both residential and commercial properties would be reviewed by the Strike Force.
The Safe City Strike Force would handle referrals from the general public, neighborhood associations, the Mayor and the Albuquerque City Council.
The Albuquerque City Council would be given weekly updates on the progress made in their districts on the nuisance properties found.
The Safe City Strike Force routinely prepared condemnation resolutions for enactment by the Albuquerque City Council to tear down substandard buildings.
I estimate in the 8 years I was Director of the Strike Force we took civil enforcement action against some 6,500 properties, both commercial and residential.
The Code Enforcement Division of the Planning Department secured $25,000 in federal grant funding for the Safe City Strike Force its first year of its existence for tear downs of blighted properties.
By the seventh year, the Code Enforcement Division of the Planning Department secured almost $1 million a year in funding for board ups and teardowns by the Safe City Strike Force.
NO EXCUSE FOR BLIGHTED, SLUMLORD PROPERTIES
Albuquerque and the commercial real estate sector may be on hard economic times, but that does not mean commercial property owners and landlords can just turn their backs on making repairs and do nothing to maintain their properties.
Not being able to afford to make repairs is not a good excuse when it comes to substandard commercial and residential buildings.
If commercial and residential rental property owners cannot afford to make repairs and keep maintenance up, then they need to sell their properties to someone who can.
Nuisance and blighted properties bring down property values and can endanger an entire neighborhood when the property becomes a magnet for crime, especially when used for a crack house or meth lab.
A magnet for crime property is one that has an extensive history of calls for service to the Albuquerque Police Department and where crime occurs.
A review of the total number of calls for service a year is used in part to determine if a property is a public nuisance or a nuisance under city ordinances.
Residential rental landlords and motel owners need to provide housing that is safe, secure and livable for all tenants.
Tenants are legally entitled to safe, secure, clean, living quarters with working utilities when they pay their rent.
As director of the Safe City Strike Force, I saw way too many slumlords charging top dollar to rent their properties to some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Many slumlords refuse to make repairs when needed, even when the health and safety of tenants are at risk.
Slumlords have the financial upper hand with their tenants and have the attitude with their tenants that if you do not like what I am renting to you, then get the hell out.
Undocumented or non-United State citizens are also reluctant to complain to slumlords for repairs or the police because of fear of eviction or deportation.
Slumlords are also quick to evict when there is a missed monthly rental payment.
Some of the more egregious instances where property owners refused to make costly repairs and where health and safety was an issue involved heating and air condition systems that broke down during peak usage times.
The City of Albuquerque can have an impact and reduce the number of blighted and substandard commercial and residential properties in Albuquerque by relying on existing nuisance abatement state law and city ordinances.
New Mexico and the City of Albuquerque have some of the strongest nuisance abatement laws in the country and enforcement action can be taken by the city.
NEW MEXICO LAW
New Mexico law states: “A public nuisance consist of knowingly creating, performing or maintaining anything affecting any number of citizens without lawful authority which is injurious to public health, safety and welfare or interferes with the exercise and enjoyment of public rights, including the right to use public property.” (See 30-8-1, NMSA, defining public nuisance.)
Under New Mexico law, civil actions for the abatement of a public nuisance can be taken in the form of seeking injunctive relief to secure temporary restraining orders, preliminary injunctions and permanent injunctions to abate the nuisance.
A civil action to abate a public nuisance may be brought by any public officer or private citizen in state district court against any person, corporation or association of persons who creates, performs or maintains a public nuisance. (See 30-8-8, NMSA, abatement of a public nuisance.)
New Mexico law empowers all cities in New Mexico by city ordinance to define a nuisance, abate a nuisance and impose penalties upon a person who creates or allows a nuisance to exist. (See 3-18-17, NMSA Nuisances and Offenses; Regulation or Prohibition)
CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE ORDINANCES
A City of Albuquerque ordinance defines a nuisance property as “any parcel of real property, commercial or residential, on which …illegal activities occurs, or which is used to commit conduct, promote, facilitate, or aide the commission of … any … [crimes or housing code violations].” (See 11-1-1-3, city ordinance defining Public Nuisance)
The nuisance abatement ordinance lists misdemeanor and felony statutes and housing and commercial codes.
Albuquerque’s Nuisance Abatement Ordinance states: “It shall be unlawful for any owner, manager, tenant, lessee, occupant, or other person having any legal or equitable interest or right of possession in real property … or other personal property to intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently commit, conduct , promote, facilitate, permit, fail to prevent, or otherwise let happen, any public nuisance in, on or using any property in which they hold any legal or equitable interest or right of possession.” (See 11-1-1-10, Public Nuisance Prohibited)
The City’s Uniform Housing Code defines a nuisance in part as “Any nuisance known at common law …” or “whatever is dangerous to human life or is detrimental to health, as determined by the health officer” or “any violation of the housing standards” required by the building and housing codes. (See 14-3-1-4, ROA 1994, Housing Code defining Nuisance).
In 2004 the city enacted the Vacant Building Maintenance Act which requires property owners to register their vacant buildings, repair them and keep them maintained.
Albuquerque’s housing and commercial codes define substandard structures and there are provisions that allow inspections and civil code enforcement actions.
Under existing city ordinances, property owners can be cited for code violations for not maintaining their properties in compliance with city codes.
Under the nuisance abatement ordinance, aggressive code enforcement action against blighted properties, both residential and commercial, can be taken where it is found that that the properties have become a nuisance and magnets of crime resulting in calls for service to the Albuquerque Police Department.
CITY COUNCIL CAN FUND, BUT WILL NOT
For the last eight years, little to nothing has been done by the City of Albuquerque to address blighted and substandard commercial and residential properties in Albuquerque.
There is a lack of commitment by city hall to properly fund a program that was recognized as a best practice by municipalities throughout the country.
Albuquerque was safer and cleaner because of the work of the Safe City Strike Force.
Today, the Safe City Strike Force has one employee, its director, and the Safe City Strike Force largely exists in name only.
Existing code enforcement resources are already in place in the City Planning Department and the City Attorney’s office.
City Councilors are given $1 million each in discretionary funds out of the general fund to use as they see fit in their City Council districts.
All our City Councilors need to commit their discretionary money to good use for condemnations and tear downs of substandard buildings in their districts by the Safe City Strike Force.
Funding the Safe City Strike Force may not be a glamorous construction project like a library or fire station that city councilors always love taking credit for, but it would go along way to getting rid of blighted commercial and residential properties, which only sully entire neighborhoods and put residents in danger and bring property values down.
Diane Gibson needs to stop wasting people’s time with a task force and spear head the funding of the Safe City Strike Force.