Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Demolition by Neglect: Ordinance Provisions

Chapter 9: Preservation Commission Design Review, Page 4 of 6

Demolition by Neglect | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

One of the toughest preservation issues a commission can face is demolition by neglect. This occurs when a property owner allows a property to deteriorate, sometimes beyond repair. The property may have been abandoned or the owner may have passively deferred maintenance until it got out of hand.

Too often, however, neglect is used as a strategy to demolish buildings and other structures and redevelop the property.

Use Ordinance Provisions to Address Cases of Neglect

Issues of neglect must be addressed via local ordinance, such as with the local preservation ordinance. The best way to do this is to require that historic properties comply with all codes and regulations regarding maintenance of properties, and that all structures be protected from decay and deterioration and kept free of structural defects.

Some Wisconsin communities have enacted minimum maintenance standards by local ordinance that contain provisions similar to demolition by neglect ordinances. Commissions should be familiar with any such standards and work with their building inspection department when historic structures are threatened.

The local preservation ordinance should include set procedures for dealing with demolition by neglect cases. In particular, the preservation ordinance needs to make it clear that demolition by neglect will prevent owners from claiming economic hardship in the review process for a Certificate of Appropriateness.

Identify Conditions of Neglect

The commission and its staff should have a good working relationship with the local inspection and code enforcement office. Effective communication between these groups can help to identify and correct problems of neglect with a property. These groups should agree on the specific conditions that constitute demolition by neglect and ensure that personnel in these offices, as well as property owners, are familiar with them.

These are some common conditions of neglect:

  • Deteriorated foundations, walls, floors, ceilings, or rafters
  • Ineffective waterproofing of roofs, walls, or foundations, including broken doors and windows, deteriorated paint, brick, mortar, or stucco
  • Signs of rot or decay, such as holes, or any deterioration that creates a hazardous condition
  • Lack of maintenance of the surrounding environment, such as fences, retaining walls, and outbuildings

Specify Enforcement Procedures

The procedures for handling cases of demolition by neglect should specify how the provisions will be enforced:

  • Identify when and how stop-work orders and citations will be made
  • Give specific time frames for correcting problems
  • Provide procedures for appeals
  • Stipulate the exact penalty or fine if owners fail to comply with the ordinance

Example Language for Demolition by Neglect Ordinance Provisions 

While developing a demolition by neglect provision in your ordinance, consider adding this representative language:

The purpose of this ordinance is to protect the City's historic architectural resources by intervening when a significant resource is undergoing demolition by neglect. Demolition by neglect is defined as a situation in which a property owner, or others having legal possession, custody or control of a property, allow the condition of property located in a Historic District to suffer such deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair, as to threaten the structural integrity of the structure or its relevant architectural detail to a degree that the structure and its character may potentially be lost to current and future generations.

Control of Demolition by Neglect of Structures within Designated Historic Districts

In order to promote the purposes of historic preservation, this subsection requires that owners of historic properties maintain their properties and not allow them to fall into disrepair. The requirements of this subsection are applicable only to properties in designated Historic Districts.

Conditions of Neglect Defined and Prohibited Owners or others having legal possession, custody or control of a property in Historic Districts shall maintain or cause to be maintained the exterior and structural features of their properties and not allow conditions of neglect to occur on such properties. It is a violation of the City’s Ordinance to not remedy a condition of neglect within the period of time set by a final administrative determination, as described in Section (C), below.

SECTION B: Conditions of neglect include, but are not limited to, the following: 1. Deterioration of exterior walls, foundations, or other vertical support that causes leaning, sagging, splitting, listing, or buckling or deterioration of flooring or floor supports, roofs, or other horizontal members that causes leaning, sagging, splitting, listing, or buckling; 2. Deterioration of external chimneys that causes leaning, sagging, splitting, listing, or buckling; 3. Deterioration or crumbling of exterior plasters or mortars or ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, and foundations, including broken windows or doors; 4. Defective protection or lack of weather protection for exterior wall and roof coverings, including lack of paint, or weathering due to lack of paint or other protective covering; 5. Rotting, holes, and other forms of decay; 6. Deterioration of exterior stairs, porches, handrails, window and door frames, cornices, entablatures, wall facings, and architectural details that causes delamination, instability, loss of shape and form, or crumbling; 7. Deterioration that has a detrimental effect on the surrounding historic district or deterioration that contributes to a hazardous or unsafe condition; 8. Deterioration of fences, gates, and accessory structures.

SECTION C: Procedure for Enforcement. Upon receipt of a complaint or upon observation, if the City Manager makes a preliminary determination that a property in a Historic District is being neglected, the Manager shall inform the property owner of the preliminary determination and notify the Historic District Commission of the preliminary determination. The Manager will seek remedial action by the property owner.If remedial action has not commenced within 30 days of initial notification, the City Manager, after consultation with the Historic District Commission, shall make a finding of violation.

In the event of a finding of violation and the corrective action specified in the notice is not instituted within the time allotted, the Manager may institute, perform and complete the necessary remedial work to prevent deterioration. Labor and materials shall be a lien against the property, and draw interest at the highest legal rate, the amount to be amortized over a period of 10 years subject to a public sale if there is a default in payment.