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Abandoned property plaguing Blackstone

August 25, 2013

139 Lincoln Ave., Blackstone.

BLACKSTONE – The town is ramping up efforts
to get tough on eyesore properties and recoup a
whopping $170,000 in delinquent fines owed by
the owners of more than a dozen blighted, abandoned
properties in town.

“We’re seeing a rise in these abandoned, vacant
properties, where the windows are broken and boarded
up and the lawns and yards are unkempt and overgrown,”
said William Walsh, the town’s code enforcement
officer. “They’ve become blighted areas that are having
a real impact on property values.”

A vacant house on Lincoln Street is a perfect
illustration of what the town faces when a property has
been abandoned due to the economic recession.

“The grass is about four feet high, the mailbox is
knocked over and the property just looks horrible,”
says Walsh.

For the past year, Walsh has been targeting properties
on Farm, Orchard and Lincoln Streets, all of which
are owned by the banks, including Bank of America
and J.C. Morgan. And there are at least three more abandoned
properties the town is preparing to go after in the coming weeks.

When a property is foreclosed on, it’s up to the
banks to hire a local property management company to
keep up the property. But that hasn’t been the case in
Blackstone, Walsh says, and it’s been an uphill battle trying
to force compliance from lenders who often are
large national corporations from out of state.

Walsh said the town served notices to the banks
more than a year ago, but they were largely ignore for
about six months, which forced the town to begin
issuing $1,250-a-day fines, which includes a $1,000
sanitation code fine and a $250- bylaw code fine.

Walsh said the banks finally began cleaning up
the properties, but that was only after the town went to
court to force compliance. Now, the town is trying
to recoup the $170,000 it is owned in cumulative fines
from the three properties in a case that has now moved
from a civil matter to a criminal matter.

The town won a major victory Thursday when an
Uxbridge District Court housing judge granted the
town permission to place a lien on the abandoned single-
family home on Farm Street.

“That means the bank can’t sell it until is pays
back the $40,000 in fines it owes the town,” said Walsh,
adding no one from the bank even bothered to show
up for the hearing.

Walsh said the town will be back in court next
Thursday to address the Lincoln Street property,
adding that he expects the judge to take similar action
and place a lien on that property, as well. As for the
Orchard Street property, Walsh said that was owed
by the federal government,therefore, the fines were dismissed,
but arrangements are in place to have the property kept up going forward.

Walsh said the housing court judge noted at the
hearing Thursday that Blackstone was the first
town in the Blackstone Valley to aggressively go
after foreclosed houses and to make sure the properties
are properly maintained and don’t become blights on
neighborhoods.

At a Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, Town
Counsel Patrick Costello suggested that the town may
want to consider putting an article on the next town
meeting warrant that will ask voters to adopt
Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40U, an enabling
local-option which permits municipalities to ramp up
their enforcement powers on issues such as sanitation,
housing and snow- and ice removal infractions.

Often referred to as the "Green Ticket Law,” the
statute provides for both written appeals and administrative
hearings for citations written for violations and
establishes penalties and collection mechanisms for
unpaid fines.

Walsh says the statute allows for appeals of citations
outside the judicial system and penalties for late
payments, and allows cities and towns to impose sanctions
for failure to pay fines by restricting access to other
municipal services.

Right now, he says, Blackstone has no recourse
for collecting these types of unpaid fines except to file
suit in the local Housing Court.

“Chapter 40U will allow us to take matter into our
hands and go straight to the Registry of Deeds and we
can also attach unpaid fines to the tax bill,” he said.

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