160A-439.  Ordinance authorized as to repair, closing, and demolition of nonresidential buildings or structures; order of public officer.

(a)        Authority. - The governing body of the city may adopt and enforce ordinances relating to nonresidential buildings or structures that fail to meet minimum standards of maintenance, sanitation, and safety established by the governing body. The minimum standards shall address only conditions that are dangerous and injurious to public health, safety, and welfare and identify circumstances under which a public necessity exists for the repair, closing, or demolition of such buildings or structures. The ordinance shall provide for designation or appointment of a public officer to exercise the powers prescribed by the ordinance, in accordance with the procedures specified in this section. Such ordinance shall only be applicable within the corporate limits of the city.

(b)        Investigation. - Whenever it appears to the public officer that any nonresidential building or structure has not been properly maintained so that the safety or health of its occupants or members of the general public are jeopardized for failure of the property to meet the minimum standards established by the governing body, the public officer shall undertake a preliminary investigation. If entry upon the premises for purposes of investigation is necessary, such entry shall be made pursuant to a duly issued administrative search warrant in accordance with G.S. 15-27.2 or with permission of the owner, the owner's agent, a tenant, or other person legally in possession of the premises.

(c)        Complaint and Hearing. - If the preliminary investigation discloses evidence of a violation of the minimum standards, the public officer shall issue and cause to be served upon the owner of and parties in interest in the nonresidential building or structure a complaint. The complaint shall state the charges and contain a notice that a hearing will be held before the public officer (or his or her designated agent) at a place within the county scheduled not less than 10 days nor more than 30 days after the serving of the complaint; that the owner and parties in interest shall be given the right to answer the complaint and to appear in person, or otherwise, and give testimony at the place and time fixed in the complaint; and that the rules of evidence prevailing in courts of law or equity shall not be controlling in hearings before the public officer.

(d)       Order. - If, after notice and hearing, the public officer determines that the nonresidential building or structure has not been properly maintained so that the safety or health of its occupants or members of the general public is jeopardized for failure of the property to meet the minimum standards established by the governing body, the public officer shall state in writing findings of fact in support of that determination and shall issue and cause to be served upon the owner thereof an order. The order may require the owner to take remedial action, within a reasonable time specified, subject to the procedures and limitations herein.

(e)        Limitations on Orders. -

(1)        An order may require the owner to repair, alter, or improve the nonresidential building or structure in order to bring it into compliance with the minimum standards established by the governing body or to vacate and close the nonresidential building or structure for any use.

(2)        An order may require the owner to remove or demolish the nonresidential building or structure if the cost of repair, alteration, or improvement of the building or structure would exceed fifty percent (50%) of its then current value. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if the nonresidential building or structure is designated as a local historic landmark, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, or located in a locally designated historic district or in a historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the governing body determines, after a public hearing as provided by ordinance, that the nonresidential building or structure is of individual significance or contributes to maintaining the character of the district, and the nonresidential building or structure has not been condemned as unsafe, the order may require that the nonresidential building or structure be vacated and closed until it is brought into compliance with the minimum standards established by the governing body.

(3)        An order may not require repairs, alterations, or improvements to be made to vacant manufacturing facilities or vacant industrial warehouse facilities to preserve the original use. The order may require such building or structure to be vacated and closed, but repairs may be required only when necessary to maintain structural integrity or to abate a health or safety hazard that cannot be remedied by ordering the building or structure closed for any use.

(f)        Action by Governing Body Upon Failure to Comply With Order. -

(1)        If the owner fails to comply with an order to repair, alter, or improve or to vacate and close the nonresidential building or structure, the governing body may adopt an ordinance ordering the public officer to proceed to effectuate the purpose of this section with respect to the particular property or properties that the public officer found to be jeopardizing the health or safety of its occupants or members of the general public. The property or properties shall be described in the ordinance. The ordinance shall be recorded in the office of the register of deeds and shall be indexed in the name of the property owner or owners in the grantor index. Following adoption of an ordinance, the public officer may cause the building or structure to be repaired, altered, or improved or to be vacated and closed. The public officer may cause to be posted on the main entrance of any nonresidential building or structure so closed a placard with the following words: "This building is unfit for any use; the use or occupation of this building for any purpose is prohibited and unlawful." Any person who occupies or knowingly allows the occupancy of a building or structure so posted shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

(2)        If the owner fails to comply with an order to remove or demolish the nonresidential building or structure, the governing body may adopt an ordinance ordering the public officer to proceed to effectuate the purpose of this section with respect to the particular property or properties that the public officer found to be jeopardizing the health or safety of its occupants or members of the general public. No ordinance shall be adopted to require demolition of a nonresidential building or structure until the owner has first been given a reasonable opportunity to bring it into conformity with the minimum standards established by the governing body. The property or properties shall be described in the ordinance. The ordinance shall be recorded in the office of the register of deeds and shall be indexed in the name of the property owner or owners in the grantor index. Following adoption of an ordinance, the public officer may cause the building or structure to be removed or demolished.

(g)        Action by Governing Body Upon Abandonment of Intent to Repair. - If the governing body has adopted an ordinance or the public officer has issued an order requiring the building or structure to be repaired or vacated and closed and the building or structure has been vacated and closed for a period of two years pursuant to the ordinance or order, the governing body may make findings that the owner has abandoned the intent and purpose to repair, alter, or improve the building or structure and that the continuation of the building or structure in its vacated and closed status would be inimical to the health, safety, and welfare of the municipality in that it would continue to deteriorate, would create a fire or safety hazard, would be a threat to children and vagrants, would attract persons intent on criminal activities, or would cause or contribute to blight and the deterioration of property values in the area. Upon such findings, the governing body may, after the expiration of the two-year period, enact an ordinance and serve such ordinance on the owner, setting forth the following:

(1)        If the cost to repair the nonresidential building or structure to bring it into compliance with the minimum standards is less than or equal to fifty percent (50%) of its then current value, the ordinance shall require that the owner either repair or demolish and remove the building or structure within 90 days; or

(2)        If the cost to repair the nonresidential building or structure to bring it into compliance with the minimum standards exceeds fifty percent (50%) of its then current value, the ordinance shall require the owner to demolish and remove the building or structure within 90 days.

In the case of vacant manufacturing facilities or vacant industrial warehouse facilities, the building or structure must have been vacated and closed pursuant to an order or ordinance for a period of five years before the governing body may take action under this subsection. The ordinance shall be recorded in the office of the register of deeds in the county wherein the property or properties are located and shall be indexed in the name of the property owner in the grantor index. If the owner fails to comply with the ordinance, the public officer shall effectuate the purpose of the ordinance.

(h)        Service of Complaints and Orders. - Complaints or orders issued by a public officer pursuant to an ordinance adopted under this section shall be served upon persons either personally or by registered or certified mail so long as the means used are reasonably designed to achieve actual notice. When service is made by registered or certified mail, a copy of the complaint or order may also be sent by regular mail. Service shall be deemed sufficient if the registered or certified mail is refused, but the regular mail is not returned by the post office within 10 days after the mailing. If regular mail is used, a notice of the pending proceedings shall be posted in a conspicuous place on the premises affected. If the identities of any owners or the whereabouts of persons are unknown and cannot be ascertained by the public officer in the exercise of reasonable diligence, and the public officer makes an affidavit to that effect, the serving of the complaint or order upon the owners or other persons may be made by publication in a newspaper having general circulation in the city at least once no later than the time that personal service would be required under this section. When service is made by publication, a notice of the pending proceedings shall be posted in a conspicuous place on the premises affected.

(i)         Liens. -

(1)        The amount of the cost of repairs, alterations, or improvements, or vacating and closing, or removal or demolition by the public officer shall be a lien against the real property upon which the cost was incurred, which lien shall be filed, have the same priority, and be collected as the lien for special assessment provided in Article 10 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes.

(2)        If the real property upon which the cost was incurred is located in an incorporated city, the amount of the costs is also a lien on any other real property of the owner located within the city limits except for the owner's primary residence. The additional lien provided in this subdivision is inferior to all prior liens and shall be collected as a money judgment.

(3)        If the nonresidential building or structure is removed or demolished by the public officer, he or she shall offer for sale the recoverable materials of the building or structure and any personal property, fixtures, or appurtenances found in or attached to the building or structure and shall credit the proceeds of the sale, if any, against the cost of the removal or demolition, and any balance remaining shall be deposited in the superior court by the public officer, shall be secured in a manner directed by the court, and shall be disbursed by the court to the persons found to be entitled thereto by final order or decree of the court. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair or limit in any way the power of the governing body to define and declare nuisances and to cause their removal or abatement by summary proceedings or otherwise.

(j)         Ejectment. - If any occupant fails to comply with an order to vacate a nonresidential building or structure, the public officer may file a civil action in the name of the city to remove the occupant. The action to vacate shall be in the nature of summary ejectment and shall be commenced by filing a complaint naming as parties-defendant any person occupying the nonresidential building or structure. The clerk of superior court shall issue a summons requiring the defendant to appear before a magistrate at a certain time, date, and place not to exceed 10 days from the issuance of the summons to answer the complaint. The summons and complaint shall be served as provided in G.S. 42-29. The summons shall be returned according to its tenor, and if on its return it appears to have been duly served and if at the hearing the public officer produces a certified copy of an ordinance adopted by the governing body pursuant to subsection (f) of this section to vacate the occupied nonresidential building or structure, the magistrate shall enter judgment ordering that the premises be vacated and all persons be removed. The judgment ordering that the nonresidential building or structure be vacated shall be enforced in the same manner as the judgment for summary ejectment entered under G.S. 42-30. An appeal from any judgment entered under this subsection by the magistrate may be taken as provided in G.S. 7A-228, and the execution of the judgment may be stayed as provided in G.S. 7A-227. An action to remove an occupant of a nonresidential building or structure who is a tenant of the owner may not be in the nature of a summary ejectment proceeding pursuant to this subsection unless the occupant was served with notice, at least 30 days before the filing of the summary ejectment proceeding, that the governing body has ordered the public officer to proceed to exercise his duties under subsection (f) of this section to vacate and close or remove and demolish the nonresidential building or structure.

(k)        Civil Penalty. - The governing body may impose civil penalties against any person or entity that fails to comply with an order entered pursuant to this section. However, the imposition of civil penalties shall not limit the use of any other lawful remedies available to the governing body for the enforcement of any ordinances adopted pursuant to this section.

(l)         Powers Supplemental. - The powers conferred by this section are supplemental to the powers conferred by any other law. An ordinance adopted by the governing body may authorize the public officer to exercise any powers necessary or convenient to carry out and effectuate the purpose and provisions of this section, including the following powers in addition to others herein granted:

(1)        To investigate nonresidential buildings and structures in the city to determine whether they have been properly maintained in compliance with the minimum standards so that the safety or health of the occupants or members of the general public are not jeopardized.

(2)        To administer oaths, affirmations, examine witnesses, and receive evidence.

(3)        To enter upon premises pursuant to subsection (b) of this section for the purpose of making examinations in a manner that will do the least possible inconvenience to the persons in possession.

(4)        To appoint and fix the duties of officers, agents, and employees necessary to carry out the purposes of the ordinances adopted by the governing body.

(5)        To delegate any of his or her functions and powers under the ordinance to other officers and agents.

(m)       Appeals. - The governing body may provide that appeals may be taken from any decision or order of the public officer to the city's housing appeals board or zoning board of adjustment. Any person aggrieved by a decision or order of the public officer shall have the remedies provided in G.S. 160A-446.

(n)        Funding. - The governing body is authorized to make appropriations from its revenues necessary to carry out the purposes of this section and may accept and apply grants or donations to assist in carrying out the provisions of the ordinances adopted by the governing body.

(o)        No Effect on Just Compensation for Taking by Eminent Domain. - Nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing the owner or owners of any property from receiving just compensation for the taking of property by the power of eminent domain under the laws of this State, nor as permitting any property to be condemned or destroyed except in accordance with the police power of the State.

(p)        Definitions. -

(1)        "Parties in interest" means all individuals, associations, and corporations who have interests of record in a nonresidential building or structure and any who are in possession thereof.

(2)        "Vacant industrial warehouse" means any building or structure designed for the storage of goods or equipment in connection with manufacturing processes, which has not been used for that purpose for at least one year and has not been converted to another use.

(3)        "Vacant manufacturing facility" means any building or structure previously used for the lawful production or manufacturing of goods, which has not been used for that purpose for at least one year and has not been converted to another use. (2007-414, s. 1.)