160D-1203. Ordinance authorized as to repair, closing, and demolition; order of public officer.

Upon the adoption of an ordinance finding that dwelling conditions of the character described in G.S. 160D-1201 exist, the governing board is authorized to adopt and enforce ordinances relating to dwellings within the planning and development regulation jurisdiction that are unfit for human habitation. These ordinances shall include the following provisions:

(1) Designation of enforcement officer. - One or more public officers shall be designated to exercise the powers prescribed by the ordinance.

(2) Investigation, complaint, hearing. - Whenever a petition is filed with the public officer by a public authority or by at least five residents of the jurisdiction charging that any dwelling is unfit for human habitation or when it appears to the public officer that any dwelling is unfit for human habitation, the public officer shall, if a preliminary investigation discloses a basis for such charges, issue and cause to be served upon the owner of and parties in interest in such dwellings a complaint stating the charges in that respect and containing a notice that an administrative hearing will be held before the public officer, or the officer's designated agent, at a place within the county in which the property is located. The hearing shall be not less than 10 days nor more than 30 days after the serving of the complaint. The owner and parties in interest shall be given the right to file an answer to the complaint and to appear in person, or otherwise, and give testimony at the place and time fixed in the complaint. The rules of evidence prevailing in courts of law shall not be controlling in administrative hearings before the public officer.

(3) Orders. - If, after notice and an administrative hearing, the public officer determines that the dwelling under consideration is unfit for human habitation, the officer shall state in writing findings of fact in support of that determination and shall issue and cause to be served upon the owner one of the following orders, as appropriate:

a. If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the dwelling can be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the value of the dwelling, requiring the owner, within the time specified, to repair, alter, or improve the dwelling in order to render it fit for human habitation. The ordinance may fix a certain percentage of this value as being reasonable. The order may require that the property be vacated and closed only if continued occupancy during the time allowed for repair will present a significant threat of bodily harm, taking into account the nature of the necessary repairs, alterations, or improvements; the current state of the property; and any additional risks due to the presence and capacity of minors under the age of 18 or occupants with physical or mental disabilities. The order shall state that the failure to make timely repairs as directed in the order shall make the dwelling subject to the issuance of an unfit order under subdivision (4) of this section.

b. If the repair, alteration, or improvement of the dwelling cannot be made at a reasonable cost in relation to the value of the dwelling, requiring the owner, within the time specified in the order, to remove or demolish the dwelling. The ordinance may fix a certain percentage of this value as being reasonable. However, notwithstanding any other provision of law, if the dwelling is located in a historic district and the Historic District Commission determines, after an administrative hearing as provided by ordinance, that the dwelling is of particular significance or value toward maintaining the character of the district, and the dwelling has not been condemned as unsafe, the order may require that the dwelling be vacated and closed consistent with G.S. 160D-949.

(4) Repair, closing, and posting. - If the owner fails to comply with an order to repair, alter, or improve or to vacate and close the dwelling, the public officer may cause the dwelling to be repaired, altered, or improved or to be vacated and closed, and the public officer may cause to be posted on the main entrance of any dwelling so closed a placard with the following words: "This building is unfit for human habitation; the use or occupation of this building for human habitation is prohibited and unlawful." Occupation of a building so posted shall constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor. The duties of the public officer set forth in this subdivision shall not be exercised until the governing board shall have by ordinance ordered the public officer to proceed to effectuate the purpose of this Article with respect to the particular property or properties that the public officer shall have found to be unfit for human habitation and which property or properties shall be described in the ordinance. This ordinance shall be recorded in the office of the register of deeds in the county where the property or properties are located and shall be indexed in the name of the property owner in the grantor index.

(5) Demolition. - If the owner fails to comply with an order to remove or demolish the dwelling, the public officer may cause such dwelling to be removed or demolished. The duties of the public officer set forth in this subdivision shall not be exercised until the governing board shall have by ordinance ordered the public officer to proceed to effectuate the purpose of this Article with respect to the particular property or properties that the public officer shall have found to be unfit for human habitation and which property or properties shall be described in the ordinance. No such ordinance shall be adopted to require demolition of a dwelling until the owner has first been given a reasonable opportunity to bring it into conformity with the housing code. This ordinance shall be recorded in the office of the register of deeds in the county where the property or properties are located and shall be indexed in the name of the property owner in the grantor index.

(6) Abandonment of Intent to Repair. - If the dwelling has been vacated and closed for a period of one year pursuant to an ordinance adopted pursuant to subdivision (4) of this section or after a public officer issues an order or proceedings have commenced under the substandard housing regulations regarding a dwelling to be repaired or vacated and closed as provided in this subdivision, then the governing board may find that the owner has abandoned the intent and purpose to repair, alter, or improve the dwelling in order to render it fit for human habitation and that the continuation of the dwelling in its vacated and closed status would be inimical to the health, safety, and welfare of the local government in that the dwelling would continue to deteriorate, would create a fire and safety hazard, would be a threat to children and vagrants, would attract persons intent on criminal activities, would cause or contribute to blight and the deterioration of property values in the area, and would render unavailable property and a dwelling that might otherwise have been made available to ease the persistent shortage of decent and affordable housing in this State, then in such circumstances, the governing board may, after the expiration of such one-year period, enact an ordinance and serve such ordinance on the owner, setting forth the following:

a. If it is determined that the repair of the dwelling to render it fit for human habitation can be made at a cost not exceeding fifty percent (50%) of the then current value of the dwelling, the ordinance shall require that the owner either repair or demolish and remove the dwelling within 90 days.

b. If it is determined that the repair of the dwelling to render it fit for human habitation cannot be made at a cost not exceeding fifty percent (50%) of the then current value of the dwelling, the ordinance shall require the owner to demolish and remove the dwelling within 90 days.

This 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 this ordinance, the public officer shall effectuate the purpose of the ordinance.

(7) Liens. -

a. 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.

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

c. If the dwelling is removed or demolished by the public officer, the local government shall sell the materials of the dwelling, and any personal property, fixtures, or appurtenances found in or attached to the dwelling, and shall credit the proceeds of the sale 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 local government to define and declare nuisances and to cause their removal or abatement by summary proceedings or otherwise.

(8) Civil action. - If any occupant fails to comply with an order to vacate a dwelling, the public officer may file a civil action in the name of the local government to remove such occupant. The action to vacate the dwelling shall be in the nature of summary ejectment and shall be commenced by filing a complaint naming as defendant any person occupying such dwelling. 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. If the summons 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 board pursuant to subdivision (5) of this section authorizing the officer to proceed to vacate the occupied dwelling, the magistrate shall enter judgment ordering that the premises be vacated and that all persons be removed. The judgment ordering that the dwelling 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 hereunder by the magistrate may be taken as provided in G.S. 7A-228, and the execution of such judgment may be stayed as provided in G.S. 7A-227. An action to remove an occupant of a dwelling who is a tenant of the owner may not be in the nature of a summary ejectment proceeding pursuant to this paragraph unless such occupant was served with notice at least 30 days before the filing of the summary ejectment proceeding that the governing board has ordered the public officer to proceed to exercise his duties under subdivisions (4) and (5) of this section to vacate and close or remove and demolish the dwelling.

(9) Additional notices to affordable housing organizations. - Whenever a determination is made pursuant to subdivision (3) of this section that a dwelling must be vacated and closed, or removed or demolished, under the provisions of this section, notice of the order shall be given by first-class mail to any organization involved in providing or restoring dwellings for affordable housing that has filed a written request for such notices. A minimum period of 45 days from the mailing of such notice shall be given before removal or demolition by action of the public officer, to allow the opportunity for any organization to negotiate with the owner to make repairs, lease, or purchase the property for the purpose of providing affordable housing. The public officer or clerk shall certify the mailing of the notices, and the certification shall be conclusive in the absence of fraud. Only an organization that has filed a written request for such notices may raise the issue of failure to mail such notices, and the sole remedy shall be an order requiring the public officer to wait 45 days before causing removal or demolition. (2019-111, s. 2.4; 2020-3, s. 4.33(a); 2020-25, ss. 40, 51(a), (b), (d).)