I've been getting a number of calls from potential home buyers asking about Saint Paul's recent changes to the way vacant buildings are handled. The Star Tribune ran an article a couple weeks ago about the woes of a person who bought a Category III Registered vacant building in Saint Paul, and I can't understand what the big deal is... but I digress (I'll come back to this). The reason I'm writing this is to help Saint Paul Realtors and home buyers. The biggest question I'm getting is whether homes that I've done Truth in Sale of Housing Evaluations on need code compliance, or if they are registered vacant buildings. These are important questions to ask if you're buying a vacant building in Saint Paul.
To help understand the issue, here's a quick summary:
- Saint Paul has three official categories of registered vacant buildings - I, II, and III.
- Category I - vacant buildings with no big problems, although buyers are responsible for paying any outstanding fees and complying with any outstanding or existing orders for legal occupancy.
- Category II - vacant buildings that are condemned or have multiple housing violations - condemned doesn't mean it has to be torn down though. The seller must obtain a code compliance report, and the buyer must complete the repairs.
- Category III - vacant buildings with big time problems; these may be dangerous or condemned. They're the worst of the worst. These properties cannot be sold until the seller obtains a Certificate of Occupancy, Certificate of Code Compliance, or a Fire Certificate of Occupancy. This means the bank has to do repairs!
- The requirements for Cat III buildings was recently passed on to the seller this November, under a new ordinance which is referred to as the Bostrom Ordinance, named after Saint Paul Council Member Dan Bostrom.
- Truth-in-Housing reports have a large area on the front page where I (the evaluator) need to specify if the property is a Registered Vacant Building, and I need to indicate the Category - I, II, or III.
- Truth-in-Housing reports are static - a report I did 11 months ago is still valid today, but nothing on the report changes, even if the status of the property changes (IE - a property might have been a Cat II when I did the report, and might change to a Cat III two months later, but the report will still show it's a Cat II).
Obviously, it's extremely important to get the most up to date information when buying a vacant building in Saint Paul. You can't go by the Truth in Housing report. Here's how to do it: Go to https://www.stpaulonestop.com/AMANDA5/eNtraprise/StPaul/menu/menu.jsp . Click on "Property info and Permits by Address" and look up the property in question. Try 120 Elizabeth. You'll see right at the top of the screen under "Zoning/Use", this is a Vacant Building Category I. That's it, that's all.
As for the Star Tribune article, I can't understand what the big deal is. A guy bought a vacant building and thought it was a Category II, but it turns out that it changed to a Category III before he bought it. So what? He had to complete a code compliance inspection either way. Now that he owns the property, what's different? Comments are welcome!
Click here for a printer friendly pdf of Saint Paul's Requirements for the Sale of Registered Vacant Buildings.
Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections