City codes don't address commercial structures - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

City codes don't address commercial structures

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January 23, 2008

Albany  --  Two more homeless men were arrested last night inside the old Pritchett Ford building on North Slappey. Four men were arrested in that same dilapidated vacant building Monday night, seeking shelter from the cold.

Vagrants inside abandoned buildings can be a real danger, because they often set fires to stay warm-- endangering themselves, neighbors, and emergency responders if those fires get out of control.

Albany Code Enforcement officers say they need newer and more complete regulations in their battle to take care of vacant eyesore buildings.

It's easy to tell the old Pritchett Ford Building on North Slappey has become home for many vagrants. Inside, cots and beds are set up, with liquor and beer bottles littering the floor.

Six men have been arrested inside the building the last two nights, and police say the stench and filth made them sick while making the arrest. But this is just one vacant Albany building that the homeless are using on cold nights.

It's all over the city," said Albany Code Enforcement Department Director Mike Tilson.

The Code Enforcement Officers know there are many dilapidated buildings that are havens for homeless, and a danger to the surrounding community. But Tilson says taking action against the owners of these buildings is tough, because the city codes are old. "We are under the 1994 Housing Code, and this housing code is oriented strictly on residential structures."

Tilson is working with Albany city leaders and commissioners to implement the International Property Maintenance Code, a standard code book used nationwide for building standards. "We want to get something with a lot more detail, and give us a little more teeth to work with."

The roof is falling in at the Pritchett building, and most of the wiring has been ripped out. Tilson says he hopes the city will implement the modern code book this year, so his officers can clean up buildings like this.

But if the city starts going to court to order owners to repair or tear down eyesore properties, the city could get stuck with the property and the cost of tearing the building down.  "That's real money, that would come out of the city coffers. And that's a big problem," Tilson said.

A problem city commissioners will have to debate, but these vacant buildings could become fire death traps.

Enforcement had a dozen dilapidated or abandoned houses torn down in Albany last year.

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