HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington is taking steps to further deter people from entering empty or abandoned buildings by taking up an ordinance allowing the municipality to post “no trespassing” signage and upping the penalty for structure trespassing.
In 2018, City Council enacted an ordinance adding the potential for jail time and increased fines for property trespassing offenders, increasing the citation not to exceed $500, with no more than 30 days of jail time.
The new ordinance would do the same for structure trespassing, which would include both residential and commercial buildings, city attorney Scott Damron said at a Public Safety Committee meeting Friday.
Currently, the Huntington Police Department can only issue citations to those who have entered an empty structure, and oftentimes those offenders re-enter the building.
The city also has difficulties finding evidence as to whether or not the property owner has given consent for people to be on the property without a posted notice, Damron said.
“A property owner has the ability to post the property ‘no trespassing’ and if anyone enters that property, it’s deemed that they don’t have consent to be on that property and they can be charged,” Damron said. “The remedy for that, that we see, is to create a process by which the municipality can actually post the property as ‘no trespassing,’ rather than the owner.”
If the new ordinance is passed, after a structure becomes part of the unsafe building registry, the owner has a certain number of days to post the building “no trespassing.”
“If he or she does not do so, the city can then do it and charge back the cost of doing that to the property owner,” Damron said.
Although it’s up to the municipal judge whether to penalize the offender with jail time or a fine, Damron said the ordinance is intended to cure the problem the Huntington Police Department has faced with absentee owners and individuals entering their property.
The Public Safety Committee forwarded the ordinance to full council with a positive recommendation, and it will likely undergo a first reading Sept. 14.