The owners of Bangor’s 70 vacant properties will now pay a lot more if they continue to let their properties sit unused and face steeper consequences if they don’t pay.
Bangor city councilors unanimously approved changing a city rule Monday that doubles the twice-yearly vacant property permit fee. The proposed change also gives the city more power to enforce the rule, meaning the dozens of vacant property owners who previously evaded the requirement will be forced to pay fees.
The rule change is designed to push owners to either fill or sell their properties rather than letting them sit vacant for years. Bangor is trying to reclaim housing during an affordability crisis that has reverberated across the state and contributed to a growing homelessness problem.
“I can think of vacant properties in my neighborhood that have sat vacant since I bought my house 19 years ago that could be great single-family homes,” Councilor Gretchen Schaefer said. “Hopefully by increasing these fees we’ll see the banks that own them let them go or put them to good use.”
For the past decade, Bangor’s vacant property registration rule has required landlords to register their properties within 120 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 rule change increases the initial permit fee to $500, which doubles with each permit renewal, but caps at $4,000. This means the owner of a vacant property will eventually pay $8,000 annually if they let their property sit vacant for years.
The revision also makes someone who doesn’t follow the rule subject to a civil penalty and the enforcement provisions of state land-use law. This means if a property owner fails to pay the permit fee, a court can order the person to pay. If the land owner still refuses to pay, they can be found in contempt of court, city attorney David Szewczyk said.
While Bangor has worked to shrink its vacant property list from 208 in April 2022, the city still has 70 vacant residential properties, Jeff Wallace, Bangor’s code enforcement director, has said.
Of those, 56 are owned by large, out-of-state banks or national holding companies, which makes it difficult for code enforcement officers to find the right person to send violation notices to. It also makes facilitating sales and fixing up the properties nearly impossible.
Only 16 of those 70 properties are registered with the city and pay the permit fee regularly, Wallace said. Those 16 properties generate just $9,056 annually in revenue.
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 in April 2014.