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Medford eyes more laws for nuisance houses

Signs that proclaim a house is abandoned may soon help Medford police remove trespassers in the middle of the night.

The signs, along with a required plan of action and other changes to a vacant property ordinance, could give police more tools to go after nuisance houses that have been a magnet for squatters.

"I believe that with this code, it's going to give us more teeth for these situations," Medford police Cpl. Tom Venables said.

Medford City Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance changes April 20.

This latest move follows other ordinance changes that recently prompted foreclosure actions on five boarded-up houses in Medford that are considered the "worst of the worst."

If the council approves the newest ordinance, it would put more requirements on the 350 vacant houses on a list compiled by the city. The vacant property registry is less than half of what it was in 2012, when 759 properties were listed. 

Armed with the new ordinance, the city would require property owners to come up with an action plan to correct the problems, including a six-month deadline to remove boarded-up windows.

If four or more nuisance activities are reported in a 120-day period, the property could be subject to a $250-a-day fine. A chronic nuisance property previously could be fined $100 a day.

The signs would be required for out-of-area lenders that would provide a contact name and 24-hour phone number and would be posted on the inside of a window facing the street. If there are no windows, the weatherproof signs would have to be placed on the front of the house.

Venables said officers typically respond to reports of trespassers at vacant properties in the middle of the night when it's difficult to contact the owner or responsible party.

Also, officers aren't able to access a database that verifies whether a property is vacant, he said.

The signs in the window would alert officers that the property is supposed to be empty, making it easier to remove trespassers, he said.

Some councilors wondered whether putting signs in windows might become an enticement for trespassers.

City Attorney Lori Cooper said vagrants already have a good idea where the abandoned properties are located in the city. "As far as advertising they're vacant, I think they will already know," she said.

Not all the councilors thought the proposed ordinance went far enough in going after nuisance properties, though the councilors were cautioned by Cooper about stepping on property-rights laws.

Councilor Dick Gordon said, 'If we're so afraid of challenges, we will never take this city anywhere. I'm willing to take some risks to clean up our neighborhood."

Councilor Tim Jackle said a judge would likely take a dim view if the city didn't respect property rights protected by the Constitution.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

An abonded house is boarded up at 911 Queen Anne Ave. in Medford. [MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH]