Municipal Law: Land Banks Help Communities Revitalize Properties In Limbo

Ohio counties looking to boost community development and breathe new life into blighted or dormant properties have found land banks to be an incredibly useful tool.

Land banks are a specialized version of community improvement corporations, with the distinction of being statutory non-profits that are subject to public records laws but not the typical bidding requirements that govern most municipalities in property transactions. The modern-day version of Ohio land banks has been around since 2008, when state legislators passed a bill authorizing counties to form land reutilization corporations (LRCs),commonly known as land banks.

This paved the way for a Cuyahoga County land bank followed by many more in the subsequent years. Today, 61 of Ohio’s 88 counties have incorporated land banks, according to the Ohio Land Bank Association. Ohio’s model has been replicated in other states, including Georgia and New York.

The benefits of land banks are many. These dedicated organizations can thoughtfully acquire and redevelop property that is in limbo. Typically, these properties are in tax-related foreclosure, lifeless and essentially in a no man’s land.

Land banks can get the county auditor to title the foreclosed properties to them, allowing them to deal with the various legal and other problems, attract federal grant money and other sources of funding, and transform these distressed properties into productive community assets.

Although many Ohio counties have created and incorporated their land banks, not all are operational. That’s because county commissioners have not taken the steps necessary to officially establish their land bank. This includes passing resolutions to create the land bank, authorize the county treasurer to file articles of incorporation, designate the LRC as the county’s agency to perform the duties spelled out in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5722, and authorize the adoption and execution of a “Plan and Agreement” that defines the land bank’s statutory parameters and mission.

Once incorporated, the land bank should establish a board of directors of at least five members including two county commissioners, the county treasurer, one representative of the largest municipality and one representative of a township with a population greater than 10,000. The newly elected board should then adopt a Code of Regulations that, among other things, spells out how the board members are selected, general times and places of meetings, and rules on quorums.

Once fully operational, land banks must be mindful of their responsibilities as quasi-governmental agencies. They should understand the requirements under public records and meetings laws, as well as basic corporate governance rules, such as how to adopt resolutions. Also, because Ohio law permits counties to transfer money from their general funds to the land bank, they should not lose sight of their responsibility for taxpayer funds.

Then they can begin the real – and rewarding – work. Land banks can assemble parcels of tax-delinquent for redevelopment, acquire properties the community can later develop into affordable housing, and work with developers and other partners to convert properties to new uses such as retail spaces and parks.

Written by Isaac Wiles partner Aaron Glasgow, who represents governments and municipalities across Ohio.