Galveston City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on an ordinance creating stricter health and safety standards for buildings.
The “substandard buildings” ordinance would allow the city to identify structures that are unsafe or improperly secured, notify owners and mandate they repair the buildings, according to the proposed city document.
Fines for not complying could reach between $200 and $2,000, according to the ordinance.
The “substandard” definition applies in part to improper upkeep of the exterior of a building, such as when siding is missing or loose or when unsecured doors or windows provide “a location for vagrancy, unauthorized entry, or other criminal activity,” according to the ordinance.
A dangerous buildings ordinance already is on the books for structures that more imminently threaten the life, health or safety of the public or the property’s occupants, according to city code.
Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, first drafted the rule as a way to address so-called vacant structures, but legal issues over property rights got in the way. Brown defined a vacant structure as a commercial or residential building that appeared to have no lawful activity for more than 90 days and was not kept after physically.
Brown wanted to create a vacant homes registry, but the city discovered it was unable to by state law. The city has to be in a county with at least 2 million residents, according to local government code. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2016 that Galveston County had just under 330,000 residents.
Cities have little power enforcing rules just because a building is unattractive, city planning officials said. Residents did voice concerns that the ordinance would discriminate against buildings that aren’t aesthetically pleasing, Brown said.
“They felt that was going to be a very subjective thing to determine and therefore it might lead to a lot of misunderstandings,” Brown said. “Now, the ordinance is centered around safety and health concerns.”
Other residents felt the ordinance was an avenue for the city to demolish certain structures, but that isn’t the case, Brown said.
“There’s no segment to it whatsoever to even triggering demolition,” Brown said.