179 Parkview Ave., shown here in 2019, was on the list of the city's condemned properties and has been declared dangerous. It has since been demolished. Credit: Eesha Pendharkar / BDN

The owners of Bangor’s nearly 70 vacant properties could soon pay a lot more to let their buildings sit empty and unused. 

Bangor city councilors will consider a proposed change to a city rule that would double the biannual vacant property permit fee. The proposed change also gives the city more power to enforce the rule, meaning the more than 50 owners of vacant properties who previously evaded the requirement may be forced to pay fees. 

The proposed rule change will be considered by a City Council committee, then go back to the council to vote on later this month. 

The proposed rule change comes after the city has pushed for years to shrink its lists of vacant and condemned properties because they can be dangerous, structurally unsound and unsightly, and lower values for the surrounding neighborhoods. Vacant properties also waste potential housing at a time when Bangor is trying to increase the number of affordable options and address the needs of the city’s homeless residents. 

“The idea is to put pressure on the vacant property owners to either sell the property or make arrangements so it’s no longer vacant,” said David Szewczyk, Bangor city solicitor. 

The city first enacted its vacant property registration rule 10 years ago with the goal of reducing the number of them in the city. The rule requires landlords to register their properties within 60 days of becoming vacant and pay a $250 fee, or the cost of all materials, staff time and the city’s other expenses related to administration and enforcement — whichever is greater. That permit needs to be renewed every six months and the fee must be paid with each renewal. 

The proposed rule change would increase the initial permit fee to $500, which will double with each permit renewal, but cap at $4,000. This means the owner of a vacant property could eventually pay $8,000 annually if they let their property sit vacant for years. 

The revision would make someone who doesn’t follow the city’s rule subject to a civil penalty and the enforcement provisions of the state land use enforcement law. This means if a property owner fails to pay the permit fee, a court can order the person to pay, because that’s what the state law allows. If the land owner still refuses to pay, they can be found in contempt of court, Szewczyk said. 

While the rule change would bring in more money for the city, the council’s larger goal is pressuring owners to do something with the properties rather than let them gather dust and deteriorate for years. 

Bangor’s vacant property list shrank from 208 in April 2020 to 67 in September 2022, according to Jeff Wallace, Bangor’s code enforcement director.

Bangor’s list of vacant properties had 69 addresses as of Monday, but only 16 properties are registered with the city and pay the permit fee regularly, Wallace said. Those 16 properties generate $9,056 annually in revenue, which goes into the city’s general fund. 

Most of the vacant properties in Bangor were added to the list between 2014 and 2018, Wallace said, and the oldest property on the list was added on April 22, 2014. 

Many of the city’s vacant properties are owned by out-of-state banks or investment holdings that aren’t focused on doing something with the properties, according to Debbie Laurie, Bangor city manager. This also makes it difficult for the city’s code enforcement officers to find the right person to send violation notices to. 

The proposed rule changes wouldn’t apply to the city’s placarded properties, which are the 87 buildings that are empty but deemed unfit for habitation due to a lack of utilities, fire damage, structural damage, leaky pipes, faulty electrical systems or sanitation shortcomings. 

There are 34 addresses that show up on the city’s vacant properties and placarded properties list, Wallace said, and 53 properties that are placarded but not registered as vacant. 

“By very definition, placarded buildings must be vacant,” Wallace said. “So, a true number of vacant properties would be the 69 on the list plus the 53 that should be there, or 122.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...