COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia City Council has approved an ordinance requiring property owners to register vacant buildings with the city.
According to the ordinance, vacant buildings have to be registered with City of Columbia's Code Enforcement Division with the Columbia Police Department.
Several Columbia residents were concerned with the ordinance and spoke out during the public hearing portion of the council meeting.
"Basically what we're doing is we're criminalizing all vacant buildings," says Catherine Fleming-Bruce, Columbia resident and candidate for Columbia City Council's District Two.
"The fees are not really fees, they're penalties," says Rebecca Parms, Columbia resident.
According to the ordinance, the initial registration is free. However, after one year property owners of non-residential structures will have to pay a fee of $100. The second year includes a $500 fee, $1,000 for the third year and thereafter.
Residential property owners will be required to pay a $50 fee after one year, a $250 fee for the second year and $500 for the third year and thereafter.
"I think that it is excessive fines and fees, and registration," says April Jones, resident of the Pinehurst neighborhood."It is an excessive amount of income coming out of people's pockets that isn't necessary."
Along with boarding up the property, owners will also have to come up with a vacant building plan.
While there were concerns with the previous wording of the ordinance, Mayor Pro Tem Tameika Issac Devine, says eminent domain is no longer in the ordinance. She says the goal isn't to take anyone's property nor to criminalize vacant property owners.
"What it's meant is for us to register them," says Issac Devine. "So, that we know where the vacant properties are, for the vacant properties to be boarded up and for us to know what your plan is. So, that if you have an economic hardship maybe we can help you figure out what the plan is so that we don't have a ton of neighborhoods with vacant housing. That does affect the community. It brings down property values, it produces crime so we are really just trying to address that issue."