Chapter 15.14
UNFIT DWELLINGS, BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES

Sections:

15.14.010    Purpose and findings.

15.14.020    Definitions.

15.14.030    Duties of the director.

15.14.040    Duties and qualification of the board.

15.14.050    Unfit buildings.

15.14.060    Substandard buildings.

15.14.070    Nuisances.

15.14.080    Complaint.

15.14.090    Voluntary correction.

15.14.100    Hearings before the board.

15.14.110    Hearings before the hearing examiner.

15.14.120    Enforcement.

15.14.130    Costs.

15.14.140    Unfit building and nuisance abatement fund.

15.14.150    Permit required.

15.14.160    Rules and regulations.

15.14.170    Penalties.

15.14.180    Emergencies.

15.14.010 Purpose and findings.

The city council of the city of Sumner finds that unkempt, unsafe, unsanitary and otherwise improperly maintained premises and structures, sidewalks and easements within the city of Sumner, in addition to the obvious hazards which these conditions pose to the public health, safety and welfare, adversely affect the value, utility and habitability of property within the city as a whole and specifically cause substantial damage to adjoining and nearby property. A property that is merely unkempt may reduce the value of adjoining property and there are sufficient properties that are unkempt, unsightly and dangerous, that the habitability and economic well-being of the city are materially and adversely affected. This chapter conveys to the city administration, in accord with the procedures set out below, all necessary and proper powers to abate nuisances as they are described or found to exist and to charge the costs of their abatement to those responsible, the owners and occupants of the property upon which nuisances exist, and those properties themselves. This chapter is an exercise of the city’s police power, and it shall be liberally construed to affect this purpose. (Ord. 1923 § 1, 2000)

15.14.020 Definitions.

Unless specifically defined below or unless context clearly requires a different meaning, terms used in this chapter have the meaning given them by the currently adopted edition of the International Building Code. Gender and number are interchangeable. Defined terms or concepts from SMC Title 18 generally apply to this chapter.

A. “Abandoned” refers to any property, real or personal, which is unattended and either open or unsecured so that admittance may be gained without damaging any portion of the property, or which evidences indicia that no person is presently in possession, e.g., disconnected utilities, accumulated debris, uncleanliness, disrepair and, in the case of chattels, location. Length of time or any particular state of mind of the owner or person entitled to possession is not conclusive in determining that property is abandoned.

B. “Board” means the Sumner improvement board and shall consist of the members of the city of Sumner design commission as defined by chapter 2.89 SMC.

C. “Boarded-up building” means any building the exterior openings of which are closed by extrinsic devices or some other manner designed or calculated to be permanent, giving to the building the appearance of non-occupancy or non-use for an indefinite period of time.

D. “Building” means any building, dwelling, structure, or mobile home, factory-built house, or part thereof, built for the support, shelter or enclosure of persons, animals, chattels or property of any kind.

E. “Hearing examiner” means the individual authorized to hear appeals for the city of Sumner.

F. “Director” means the director of community development, his or her authorized deputies and representatives.

G. “Health officer” means the head of the Pierce County health department, his authorized deputies or representatives.

H. “Nuisance” includes:

1. A nuisance defined by statute or ordinance;

2. A nuisance at common law, either public or private;

3. An attractive nuisance, whether in or on a building, a building premises or an unoccupied lot and whether realty, fixture or chattel, which might reasonably be expected to attract children of tender years and constitute a danger to them, including, but not limited to, abandoned wells, ice boxes or refrigerators with doors and latches, shafts, basements or other excavations, abandoned or inoperative vehicles or other equipment, structurally unsound fences or other fixtures, lumber, fencing, vegetation or other debris;

4. Uncleanliness or whatever is dangerous to human life or detrimental to health;

5. Overcrowding; or

6. Abandonment or vacancy.

I. “Owner” means any person having any interest in the real estate in question as shown upon the records of the office of the Pierce County auditor, or who establishes his interest before the director, board, or hearing examiner. For the purpose of giving notice, the term “owner” also includes any person in physical possession.

J. “Person” means natural person, joint venture, joint stock company, partnership, association, club, company, corporation, business trust, organization, or the manager, lessee, agent, servant, officer or employee of any of them.

K. “Repeat violation” means a violation of the same regulation in any location by the same person for which voluntary compliance has been sought within two years, or a notice of violation has been issued within two years. (Ord. 2439 § 13, 2013; Ord. 1923 § 2, 2000)

15.14.030 Duties of the director.

The director is the chief administrative officer for the purposes of this chapter, and his or her duties and powers include:

A. Investigation of all buildings and premises which he has reasonable grounds to believe may be unfit, substandard, boarded-up, or a nuisance;

B. Preparation, service and posting of complaints against buildings or premises believed to be in violation; and

C. Doing all things necessary and proper to carry out and enforce this chapter. (Ord. 1923 § 3, 2000)

15.14.040 Duties and qualification of the board.

A. At least two members of the board should have knowledge of or be familiar with construction principals;

B. Conducting administrative hearings and rendering decisions based upon written findings; and

C. Doing all things necessary and proper to carry out and enforce this chapter. (Ord. 1923 § 4, 2000)

15.14.050 Unfit buildings.

A. In reaching a judgment that a building is unfit for human habitation, the director, board or the hearing examiner shall consider:

1. Dilapidation;

2. Disrepair;

3. Structural defects;

4. Defects increasing the hazards of fire, accidents or other calamities, such as parts standing or attached in such manner as to be likely to fall and cause damage or injury;

5. Inadequate ventilation;

6. Uncleanliness;

7. Inadequate light;

8. Inadequate sanitary facilities;

9. Inadequate drainage;

10. Substandard conditions.

B. If these or other conditions are found to exist to an extent dangerous or injurious to the health or safety of the building’s occupants, or the occupants of neighboring buildings or of other residents of the city of Sumner, and if:

1. Structural deterioration is of such degree that:

a. Vertical members list, lean or buckle to the extent that a plumb line passing through the center of gravity falls outside the middle third of its base; or

b. Thirty-three percent of the supporting members shows damage or deterioration; or

2. The cost of restoration exceeds 60 percent of the value of the building; or

3. The building has been damaged by fire or other calamity, the cost of restoration exceeds 30 percent of the value of the building and it has remained vacant for six months or more. (Value shall be determined by reference to a current edition of “Building Valuation Data” published by the International Conference of Building Officials or, if not published, as determined by the director. Cost of restoration is the actual estimated cost, which may be determined in the same manner as “value.”) The board or the hearing examiner shall order the building or premises demolished and the land suitably filled and cleared, or shall order the property immediately vacated and secured as completely as possible pending demolition.

C. An undertaking entered into, at or prior to the hearing, by a party in interest creates a presumption that the building or premises can be reasonably repaired. The failure to accomplish such an undertaking is grounds for the board or the hearing examiner to order demolition. If by reason of any of the above conditions, a building is unfit, but no public necessity is found for its immediate demolition, the hearing examiner, board or the director may take other action, such as causing the property to be cleaned, cleared, vacated, secured or otherwise repaired, which will promote the public health, safety or general welfare. (Ord. 1923 § 5, 2000)

15.14.060 Substandard buildings.

A. In reaching a judgment that a building or premises is substandard, the director, board and the hearing examiner shall be guided by such factors as:

1. Structural unsoundness;

2. Improper sanitation;

3. Improper safety;

4. Improper weatherproofing;

5. Defective or hazardous wiring, including wiring which:

a. Did not conform with law applicable at the time of installation; or

b. Has not been maintained in good condition; or

c. Is not being used in a safe manner;

6. Defective or hazardous plumbing, including plumbing which:

a. Did not conform with law applicable at the time of installation; or

b. Has not been maintained in good condition; or

c. Is not being used in a safe manner;

7. Defective or hazardous heating or ventilating equipment, including equipment, vents and piping which:

a. Did not conform with law applicable at the time of installation; or

b. Has not been maintained in good and safe condition;

8. Fire hazard, including any building, device, apparatus, equipment, combustible waste or debris, or vegetation which may cause fire or explosion or provide ready fuel to augment the spread or intensity thereof;

9. Nuisance.

B. If these or similar conditions are found to exist, the board or hearing examiner shall order the building or premises repaired, cleaned, cleared or otherwise brought into compliance with current codes, and may order the property vacated and secured as completely as possible pending such repair or other action. (Ord. 1923 § 6, 2000)

15.14.070 Nuisances.

A. In determining that a nuisance exists, the director, board and the hearing examiner will consider whether the conditions:

1. Annoy, injure or endanger the comfort, repose, health or safety of others;

2. Offend decency;

3. Offend the senses;

4. Unlawfully interfere, obstruct, tend to obstruct or endanger the passage of any stream, park, parkway, square, street, sidewalk, easement or way;

5. Render others insecure in life or use of property;

6. Obstruct the full use of property so as to essentially interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property;

7. Violate any provision of this code, especially SMC Titles 8, 15 and 18; or

8. Are unlawful or illegal.

B. If the board or hearing examiner finds that a nuisance exists, they shall order it abated and may order the property otherwise secured pending abatement. (Ord. 1923 § 7, 2000)

15.14.080 Complaint.

If, after a preliminary investigation of any building or premises, the director finds that it is unfit, substandard, boarded-up, required to be boarded-up, or a nuisance; he or she shall cause the owners to be served, either personally or by first class and certified mail, with return receipt requested, and shall post in a conspicuous place on such property, a complaint stating in what respect such building is unfit for human habitation or other use or is substandard or that it is or should be a boarded-up building or that the premises is a nuisance, together with the corrective action to be taken and the fees and costs to be paid. If the whereabouts of such person is unknown and cannot be ascertained by the director in the exercise of reasonable diligence, he or she shall make an affidavit to that effect, then the serving of such complaint or order upon such persons may be made either by personal service or by mailing a copy of the notice and orders by certified mail, postage prepaid, return receipt requested, to each person at the address appearing on the last equalized tax assessment roll of the county where the property is located, or at the address known to the county assessor. A copy of the notice and order shall also be mailed, addressed to each person, at the address of the building involved in the proceedings, if different, and to each person or party having a recorded right, title, estate, lien, or interest in the property. Such complaint shall contain a notice that a hearing will be held before the board at a place therein fixed, not less than 10 days nor more than 30 days after the service of such complaint; that all parties in interest shall be given the right to file an answer to the complaint, and to appear in person or otherwise and give testimony at the time and place fixed in the complaint. A copy of such complaint shall also be filed with the auditor of Pierce County, and such filing of the complaint or order shall have the force and effect of lis pendens. (Ord. 1923 § 9, 2000)

15.14.090 Voluntary correction.

A. The director may secure voluntary correction by agreement with the owner.

B. The voluntary correction agreement is a contract between the city and the owner in which such person agrees to abate the violation within a specified time and according to specified conditions. The voluntary agreement must include:

1. The name and address of the owner or person bound under the contract;

2. The street address and a legal description sufficient to identify the premises;

3. A description of the violation and a reference to the provisions of this code or other regulation that has been violated;

4. The corrective action to be taken, and a date and time by which the corrective action must be completed;

5. An agreement by the owner that the city of Sumner may abate the violation and recover its costs and expenses pursuant to this chapter if all terms of the voluntary agreement are not met;

6. A waiver by the owner of his right to any administrative or legal review of the violations, the appropriate corrections, and all other rights except those in the agreement;

7. The administrative costs to be paid and by whom;

8. Permission by the owner for the city to enter upon the property at any time or, in the case of occupied property, at reasonable times until the violation is abated; and

9. An acknowledgement.

C. The director may grant an extension for corrections or modifications if the owner has been diligent and made substantial progress but has been unavoidably delayed. (Ord. 1923 § 10, 2000)

15.14.100 Hearings before the board.

A. Unless, prior to the time fixed for hearing in the complaint issued by the director, arrangements satisfactory to the director for the repair, demolition, vacation or re-occupancy of the building or premises are made, including the proper application for permits, or abatement of the nuisance, the board shall hold a hearing for the purpose of determining the immediate disposition of the building or premises. The hearing will be canceled if the director approves the completed corrective action at least 48 hours before the scheduled hearing.

B. The Board shall conduct a hearing pursuant to its adopted rules. The director or his or her designee and the owner may participate as parties in the hearing and each party may call witnesses. Any complainant or person affected by the violation may appear and present evidence. The city shall have the burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of evidence that a violation has occurred and that the required corrective action is reasonable. The determination of the director shall be accorded substantial weight. If the owner fails to appear at the scheduled hearing, the board will enter an order finding that the violation occurred and assess the appropriate costs.

C. The board shall issue an order to the owner that contains the following information:

1. The decision regarding the alleged violation including findings of fact and conclusions based thereon.

2. The required corrective action.

3. The date and time by which the correction must be completed.

4. The costs assessed.

5. The date and time after which the city may proceed with abatement of the unlawful condition if the required correction is not completed.

6. The decision shall state that the owner has the right to appeal to the hearing examiner within 30 days and, unless he does appeal or comply with the order, the city shall have the power, without further notice or proceedings, to vacate and secure the building or premises and do any act required of the owner in the order of the board, and to charge any expenses incurred thereby to the owner and assess them against the property.

D. The director shall mail by certified mail, a copy of the decision to the owner or occupant within 10 working days following the hearing.

E. If no appeal is filed, a copy of such order shall be filed with the auditor of Pierce County and shall be a final order. (Ord. 1923 § 11, 2000)

15.14.110 Hearings before the hearing examiner.

A. The purpose of the hearing examiner under this chapter is to review the proceedings and orders of the board and to affirm, modify or vacate said orders.

B. Within 30 days from the date of service and posting of an order of the board, an owner may file an appeal with the hearing examiner by filing a written notice of appeal with the city clerk setting out the reasons he believes the findings or order of the director to be erroneous. There will be not less than 10 or more than 30 days from the date of said appeal or referral and the hearing. Notice of the time and place of the hearing shall be made in accord with SMC 15.14.080. The matter of the appeal will be scheduled for public hearing before the hearing examiner so as to allow 10 days’ notice of the hearing to the appellant and all interested parties and to permit final decision thereon to be made within 60 days after the filing of the appeal. The filing of the notice of appeal shall stay the order of the board, except so much thereof as requires temporary measures, such as securing of the building to minimize any emergent danger to the public health or safety.

C. Upon the public hearing of the appeal, the hearing examiner shall consider the file of the proceedings before the board and such other evidence as may be presented. After the hearing, the examiner may affirm, modify or vacate the order of the board, or may continue the matter for further deliberation or presentation of additional evidence. Normally the hearing examiner will not accept new evidence or evidence not made available to the board in the absence of good cause. The examiner’s review is on the record, not de novo. A record of the proceedings shall be made and kept for one year or until the matter is final, whichever is longer. The examiner shall cause its findings of fact and order to be made in writing; provided, he may adopt the findings and order of the board, or so much thereof as supports its decision. Such findings and order shall be served and posted in the same manner as an order of the board. In addition, such notice shall state that the owner has the right to petition the superior court of Pierce County for appropriate relief within 30 days after the order becomes final.

D. Any action taken by the hearing examiner shall be final 60 days after the filing of a notice of appeal unless continued with consent of the owner or occupant. In the event that the examiner fails to reach a decision or continues the hearing beyond 60 days after the filing of an appeal, the board’s order and finding shall be that of the examiner’s, and shall be final and subject to petition to the superior court; provided, any continuance at the request or with the consent of any owner or occupant shall suspend the running of the 60 days allowed for final decision, for the length of the continuance. (Ord. 1923 § 12, 2000)

15.14.120 Enforcement.

A. The order of the board or the hearing examiner may prescribe times within which demolition shall be commenced or completed. If the action is not commenced or completed within the prescribed time, or if no time is prescribed within the time for appeal, the director may cause the building to be demolished and the premises to be suitably filled and cleared as provided by SMC 15.14.050. If satisfactory progress has been made and sufficient evidence is presented that the work will be completed within a reasonable time, the board or the examiner may extend the time for completion of the work. If satisfactory or substantial progress has not been made, the board or the examiner may cause the building to be demolished and the premises suitably filled and cleared as provided by SMC 15.14.050. The director shall let bids for any demolition in accordance with SMC 15.14.130.

B. If other action ordered by the board or the hearing examiner is not taken within the time prescribed, or if no time is specified within the time for appeal, the director may cause the action to be taken by the city.

C. If the director deems it necessary to have the building secured as an interim measure for the protection of the public health and welfare while pending action, he may so order. If the owner is unable or unwilling to secure the building within 48 hours, the director may order the building secured by the city.

D. If the owner is unable to comply with the board or hearing examiner’s order within the time required, and the time for appeals to the examiner or petition to the court has passed, he may, for good and sufficient cause beyond his control, request in writing an extension of time. The board or the hearing examiner may grant a reasonable extension of time after a finding that the delay was beyond the control of the owners. There shall be no appeal or petition from the board or the hearing examiner’s ruling on an extension of time. (Ord. 1923 § 13, 2000)

15.14.130 Costs.

A.    1. The costs of abatement, repair, alteration or improvement, or vacating and closing, or removal or demolition, when borne by the city, shall be assessed against the real property upon which such costs were incurred unless paid. The director shall forward such costs to the city treasurer, who shall certify them to the county auditor for assessment on the tax rolls.

2. Bids for demolition shall be let only to a licensed contractor. The contract documents shall provide that the value of the materials and other salvage of the property shall be credited against the costs of the demolition. The contract documents may require bidders to estimate the salvage value of the property and, by claiming the salvage, reduce the amount of his bid accordingly. The contract price fixed by acceptance of such a bid shall not be adjusted to reflect the actual salvage value. Such bids may be let prior to the time for compliance or appeal, but shall not be binding or accepted until the order for demolition is final. The director shall have the authority to sign the contract on behalf of the city.

3. There shall be charged against the owner and assessed against the property of any boarded-up building an annual inspection fee of $250.00. Such fee shall be payable at the time the building becomes a boarded-up building. The hearing examiner or board shall order a refund of the proportional amount not due if the building is reoccupied or demolished. Subsequent annual fees shall be payable on or before the time the preceding annual fee has been exhausted.

B.    1. Actual costs and expenses will be assessed in accord with the provisions of this section.

2. In addition to actual abatement costs, the following administrative fees shall be assessed and collected in the same manner:

a. Where abatement is accomplished prior to board hearing:

Nuisance, $100.00;

Substandard building, $200.00;

Unfit building, $300.00.

Provided, the director may waive these fees for a first offense if abatement is complete 48 hours prior to a board hearing; provided further, that where abatement is accomplished by voluntary agreement, the director shall charge at least $50.00 per month per acre or fractions thereof.

b. Where abatement is accomplished subsequent to or less than 48 hours prior to a board hearing:

Nuisance, $500.00;

Substandard building, $1,000;

Unfit building, $1,500.

c. Where abatement is accomplished following breach of an agreement or understanding between a property owner and director, board, or hearing examiner:

Nuisance, $1,000;

Substandard building, $2,000;

Unfit building, $3,000.

d. Where the abatement is accomplished by the city following hearing or default of the property owner:

Nuisance, $1,000;

Substandard building, $2,000;

Unfit building, $3,000.

3. For cases heard by the board of appeals add $500.00.

4. For repeat violations, costs shall be doubled.

C. The director, board, or hearing examiner may modify the time or methods of payment of such expenses as the condition of the property and the circumstances of the owner may warrant. In setting costs, they may reduce the costs to an owner who has acted in good faith and would suffer extreme financial hardship. They may increase costs if it appears that the scheduled costs are inadequate to make the city whole with respect to a particular violation. (Ord. 1923 § 14, 2000)

15.14.140 Unfit building and nuisance abatement fund.

A fund shall be created to retain the moneys collected pursuant to this chapter and pay for any demolitions and nuisance abatements undertaken by the city. (Ord. 1923 § 15, 2000)

15.14.150 Permit required.

Any work including construction, repairs or alterations under this chapter to rehabilitate any building or structure, may require a permit in accord with the provisions of SMC Titles 5, 15, 17 or 18. (Ord. 1923 § 16, 2000)

15.14.160 Rules and regulations.

The director and board may make and promulgate such rules and regulations as will effectuate the purposes of this chapter and do substantial justice. (Ord. 1923 § 17, 2000)

15.14.170 Penalties.

It shall be unlawful and a violation of this chapter to knowingly:

A. Occupy or suffer to be occupied any building or premises ordered vacated;

B. Fail to comply with any order issued pursuant to this chapter; or

C. Obstruct any officer or agent of the city of Sumner or other governmental unit in the enforcement of this chapter.

Violation of this chapter is a gross misdemeanor. (Ord. 1923 § 18, 2000)

15.14.180 Emergencies.

The provisions of this chapter shall not prevent the director or any other officer of the city of Sumner or other governmental unit from taking any other action, summary or otherwise, necessary to eliminate or minimize an imminent danger to the health or safety of any person or property. (Ord. 1923 § 19, 2000)