SECTION 1. Chapter 255 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 12 the following new section-
(a) For purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the following meanings unless the context clearly requires otherwise:
“Abandoned”, any structure or building that is not legally occupied for a period of 60 days or has visible signs of physical distress, including boarded windows, fire damage, exposure to the elements, susceptibility to unauthorized entry or where mortgage or property tax payments are delinquent for 60 days.
“Commissioner”, the municipality’s building inspector or commissioner or other administrative chief in a town responsible under M.G.L. c. 134 § 3 for administering and enforcing the state building code.
“Days”, consecutive calendar days.
“Conclusion of the foreclosure process”, means the date at which a mortgage foreclosure process is finalized as evidenced by the filing of a foreclosure deed with the Registry of Deeds
“Owner”, every person, entity, association, corporation, fiduciary, service company, property manager or realtor who alone or severally has legal or equitable title or any interest in any real property or is a trustee or agent appointed by the courts or is a mortgagee in possession.
“Residential Property”, any property that contains one or more dwelling units used, intended, or designed to be occupied for living purposes.
(b) Any city or town which accepts the provisions of this section may impose an abandoned property registration and security program as provided in this chapter. All owners must register abandoned and/or foreclosed residential properties with Commissioner on forms provided by the Commissioner. All registrations must state the individual owner or agent’s phone number and mailing address. This registration must also certify that the property was inspected and identify whether the property is abandoned. If the property is abandoned, the registration must designate a local individual or local property management company responsible for the security and maintenance of the property. This designation must state the individual or company’s name, phone number and local mailing address. This registration must be received within sixty days of abandonment or within sixty days of the conclusion of the foreclosure process.
All property registrations are valid for one year. An annual registration fee, not to exceed one-hundred dollars and no cents ($100.00) must accompany the registration form. The fee and registration are valid for the calendar year, or remaining portion of the calendar year in which the registration was initially required. Subsequent registrations and fees are due by the first (1st) day of January of each year and must certify whether the foreclosed property remains abandoned.
Once the property is sold or is no longer abandoned, the owner must provide proof of sale or written notice of occupancy to the Commissioner.
(c) Properties subject to this section must be maintained in accordance with all applicable Sanitary, Building Codes, and local regulations. The local owner or local property management company must inspect and maintain in the property on a monthly basis for the duration of the abandonment.
(d)The property must contain a posting with the name and twenty-four (24) hour contact phone number of the local individual or property management company responsible for the maintenance. The sign must also indicate the name, address and telephone number of the property owner and the owner’s authorized agent for the purpose of service of process. This sign must be posted on the front of the property so it is clearly visible from the street.
Compliance with this section shall not relieve the property owner of any other obligation set forth in statute, regulation, covenant conditions and restrictions and/or homeowners’ association rules and regulations.
(e) Where a building is vacant, unguarded, and open to unauthorized entry, all building openings must be closed, secured and protected as follows:
(1) For the first six (6) months a building is vacant, all building openings shall be closed and secured to prevent entry by unauthorized persons in a manner not inconsistent with rules and regulations issued by the commissioner for securing vacant buildings;
(A) Openings more than one (1) square foot in area shall be secured using secure doors, glazed windows, plywood, commercial-quality steel security panels, or filled with like-kind material as the surrounding wall;
(B) Openings less than one (1) square foot in area may be boarded with plywood, provided that the boarding is made weather tight and finished with varnish, or paint of a similar color to the exterior wall and cut to the inside dimension of the exterior of the opening, and otherwise secured;
(2) For a building that has been vacant for more than six (6) months or that is determined by the commissioner to be chronically or habitually violated or upon any renewal of the registration statement required by this section, the property owner must implement and provide proof satisfactory to the commissioner that, in addition to complying with the security standards set forth elsewhere in this chapter, said building either: (i) contains all of the security features set forth in subparagraph (A) below, or (ii) is unviolated, as described in subparagraph (B) below:
(A) Every opening larger than one (1) square foot in area that is located less than eight feet above the ground or that is accessible from ground level or within eight feet in any direction of an exterior stairway, fire escape, or other means of access shall be closed and secured with a commercial-quality, 14-gauge, rust-proof steel security panel or door:
(i) security panels and doors shall have an exterior finish that allows for easy graffiti removal; and
(ii) security panels and doors shall be secured from the interior of the building to prevent unauthorized removal.
(B) For purposes of this section, the term “unviolated” shall refer to a building: (i) that has a permanent door or window, as applicable, in each appropriate building opening and that has each such door or window secured to prevent unauthorized entry and (ii) that has all its door and window components, including without limitation frames, jambs, rails, stiles, muntins, mullions, panels, sashes, lights and panes, intact and unbroken. A building that does not meet the definition of “unviolated” shall be deemed “violated”.
(C) It shall be a violation of this section for a vacant building to become violated, if the owner has otherwise represented proof to the commissioner that such building is unviolated. With respect to a vacant building represented by the owner as unviolated, if the commissioner determines, based on an inspection or a report prepared by another municipal agency and provided to the commissioner that such building is violated, the commissioner shall send by certified mail a written notice of violation to the person responsible for day-to-day supervision and management of the building or to the authorized agent for service of process as identified on the sign required by subsection (c) of this section , or if there is no such sign, then sent by certified mail to the owner of record. Within 30 days of the mailing of such notice of violation, the owner shall be required to comply with the provisions of this section.
(f) The Commissioner shall have the authority and the duty to inspect properties subject to this section for compliance and to issue citations for any violations. The Commissioner shall have the discretion to determine when and how such inspections are to be made, provided that their policies are reasonably calculated to ensure the enforcement of this section.
(g) Failure to initially register with the Commissioner is punishable by a fine, not to exceed of five hundred dollars and no cents ($500.00).
If applicable, failure to properly identify the name of the local individual or property management company is punishable by a fine, not to exceed five hundred dollars and no cents ($500.00).
Failure to maintain the property is punishable by a fine, not to exceed hundred dollars and no cents ($500.00) for each month the property remains out of compliance or is otherwise not maintained.
Violations of this chapter shall be treated as a strict liability offence regardless of intent.
This section shall only take effect in a city or town accepting the provisions of this section by a majority vote of the city council with the approval of the mayor, in the case of a city with a Plan A, Plan B, or Plan F charter, by a majority vote of the city council, in the case of a city with a Plan C, Plan D, or Plan E charter, by a majority vote of the annual town meeting or a special meeting called for that purpose, in the called-for purpose, in the case of a municipality with a town meeting form of government; or by a majority of the town council, in the case of a municipality with a town form of government. The provisions of this section shall take effect on the first day of the first calendar month following days after such acceptance; provided further that if such day is at least 15 days after such acceptance; and provided further, that if such day is less that 15 days after such acceptance, it shall take effect on the first day of the second calendar month following such acceptance.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon its passage.
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