Owners of five ramshackle houses in Medford will be put on notice that they have 60 days to clean up their act, or the city will take them to court to gain control of the properties.
Medford City Council unanimously agreed Thursday to start a receivership process against some of the worst houses in the city that have been plagued with vandalism, drugs and vagrancy over several years.
"I want to move this as fast as possible," Councilor Dick Gordon said.
Two of the five boarded-up houses should be demolished, including one at 205 Chestnut Ave., which suffered extensive fire damage, according to Building Director Sam Barnum.
"I'm shocked it's still standing," he said.
Barnum said the other house that should be demolished is at 2690 Connell Ave.
Three other houses, at 1530 W. Main St., 540 Midway Road and 911 Queen Anne Ave., could be remodeled, he said.
All of the houses, with the exception of the one on Main Street, have generated hundreds of police calls over the years.
The Midway Road house has spurred 192 calls for service since January 2012, and the Queen Anne house has had 162 calls for service during the same period.
Councilor Kevin Stine said he thought the city should proceed slowly with the first batch of houses under the new ordinance because it will be testing a little-used state law.
Councilor Tim Jackle said he was unsure of going after the house on Main Street, because no criminal activity had been reported there.
But Barnum, police Sgt. Don Lane and Fire Chief Brian Fish said the house could be a hazard to emergency personnel if they were called out during the night and had to enter the potentially dangerous structure. They also noted a rodent infestation at the house.
Mayor Gary Wheeler said the Main Street house is more typical of the kinds of properties the city hopes to clean up to get rid of blighted and boarded-up buildings.
"This kind of structure demonstrates why we have this ordinance in the first place," he said.
City officials have tried, sometimes for years, to get owners of abandoned properties to rehabilitate them. They will now be using a little-known, 1989 state law that allows cities to foreclose on properties that have become a threat to the health and safety of a community.
Under the law, the city or another agency can initiate a receivership action against a problem property. Once the city gains control, it can begin to rehabilitate it, potentially qualifying for grants and other federal programs.
City officials hope the threat of foreclosure will be the spur that compels banks to rehabilitate the properties themselves.
Under a new city code, adopted by the council last November, owners must repair boarded-up windows and doors within six months.