By Micah Maidenberg

January 26, 2011

Owners of dangerous vacant buildings in Chicago could face up to six months in jail for failing to properly maintain their properties, according to an ordinance that advanced out of the City Council’s buildings committee yesterday and now heads to the full council.

The proposed new penalties come in the wake of the December 22 fire at a decrepit, vacant structure 1744 E. 75th Street; two Chicago firefighters perished battling that blaze and 17 more were injured. Sponsored by Ald. James Balcer (11th Ward), the bill begs the possibility of jail time should a vacant building be found in violation of the current minimum standards for securing them; if it has fire, electrical, or building code violations making them imminently dangerous; or if the building’s condition causes severe injury or the death of anyone.

Vacant buildings stress many Chicago neighborhoods, resulting in blight and leaving blocks less secure. The full extent of the vacant problem isn’t quite clear though it is certain the foreclosure crisis has exacerbated the issue. Owners of empty buildings are required by city code to register them with the city, in addition to securing and maintaining the building. But the Woodstock Institute’s recent report about “red flag properties” found 2,558 lender-owned single family homes in Chicago that are likely empty but not registered with the city. “These homes,” Woodstock wrote, “are likely not secured and maintained to the standards required by the City of Chicago and may be in an advanced state of disrepair.”

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