LANSING (WWJ/AP) - Owners of blighted and neglected property who don't pay their fines in Michigan would face tougher penalties -- including potential jail time -- under legislation overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate earlier this week.
Lawmakers say the bipartisan bills, which now head to the House, will provide cities with the tools to hold blight offenders accountable and help raise revenue for cities such as Detroit to tear down abandoned buildings.
"There are cases where people buy buildings in Detroit and other cities and let them rot," Republican Sen. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, who is sponsoring one of the bills, said in a statement. "We need to put teeth into blight laws so that slumlords respond to blight infractions."
Under the bills, which were approved by a 35 to 1 vote, if a person has more than $1,000 unpaid fines on a second blight violation, he or she could face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 93 days in jail, a fine up to $500, or both. If the owner has three or more blight violations, the penalty is up to a year in jail.
Democratic Sen. Virgil Smith of Detroit said most offenders would receive probation, not jail time, but the law will "hold that criminal sanction over somebody's head."
Smith, who sponsors another bill, said blight is not just an urban issue but also happens in rural areas, such as abandoned farms.
People who have outstanding blight violations also would not be able to receive building or zoning permits. Banks and credit unions, however, would be exempt from the bill.
Smith said the problem occurs most often when speculators buy "bundles of property at one time...they don't take care of their property and it gets reverted back to the county treasurer for not paying their property taxes."
"It's a vicious cycle," he said.
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