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110317-adh-nws-Boarding up homes07-my (copy)

Albany Community Service Officers Kris Schendel, right, and Jerry Morris board up windows of a vacated home on Fourth Avenue in November 2017. The city has used industrial-grade plywood for such efforts, but is now pursuing a code change that would require clear polycarbonate be used on access points the public can see.

Mark Ylen, Democrat-Herald (File)

Vacant homes boarded over with particle board may soon be a thing of the past under a code change recommended to city officials by the Albany Police Department.

Code Compliance Officer Kris Schendel asked the Albany City Council at a work session Monday for changes to several sections of the municipal code. One request is to change the type of boarding material used when property needs to be secured.

The council does not yet have a date to consider the request because the city's building division is currently evaluating it, city spokeswoman Marilyn Smith said. If councilors approve the change, it will take effect 30 days from that point.

Right now, property owners who have a structure they've been asked to secure sometimes cover the doors and windows with sheets of particle board. The city sometimes will take on the job if, for instance, a bank has been notified of a derelict structure and hasn't taken any action within 30 days of the abatement request, Schendel said.

But the problem with particle board is it doesn't mix well with western Oregon rain, Schendel said. It doesn't take long for the wood around the screws to turn to mush — and for vagrants to move in. 

The police department is suggesting instead the municipal code be altered to specify the material used to secure the front, or public-facing, side of a building must be a clear polycarbonate, minimum 3/16ths of an inch thick. (Under the proposal, exterior-grade plywood still can be used for the back of a building or any entrance points not immediately visible to the public.)

Polycarbonate is tough: You can throw a brick at it and it won't shatter, Schendel said. And it's clear, like glass, so it won't be immediately evident to anyone passing by that a structure is vacant. 

That's important because unsecured properties can contribute to neighborhood blight and lower property values, Schendel said.

"Having reasonable regulations for boarded-up structures will reduce the impacts these properties have on residents' quality of life," the proposal reads.

Polycarbonate can be purchased at home supply stores, Schendel told the council. It's more expensive — $60 higher per board compared to the exterior grade plywood the city currently uses — but also can be reused many times.

The money used by the city to board up derelict structures comes from a Code Enforcement fund, Schendel said. In the case of a foreclosed home, for instance, after a bank is notified of the derelict structure and the city has made a request to abate and issue, the city usually allows 30 days for the work to be completed.

City crews can take action if the bank doesn't respond, such as cutting tall grass, removing junk and trash, or boarding up any unsecured areas of the structure.

After abatement, the city sends the bill for the cleanup is sent to the bank. If it fails to reimburse the cost, the city places a lien on the property.


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