RICHMOND -- Owners of vacant properties may soon be required to register them with the city and submit a written statement regarding how they plan to maintain them.

The City Council on Tuesday passed a first reading of the new municipal ordinance, which gives the city's Code Enforcement Department officials power to reduce blight in the working-class city.

"This ordinance gives us another important tool," city prosecutor Tricia Aljoe said.

The ordinance requires that "the legal owner of any premises containing a vacant building shall file a statement of registration with the City's Code Enforcement Unit within 30 days following the date that the building became vacant ... or within 30 days of obtaining a vacant building through foreclosure, inheritance, purchase, transfer of deed of trust, or any other means ..."

The registration will help the city get a better handle on where vacant properties are and who owns them. It will also be an incentive to improve properties, Aljoe said.

Failure to comply could result in a fine of $250 per day, Aljoe said, and owners would have to pay a still-undetermined filing fee as well. She said "most cities" in the Bay Area have similar registration requirements, and that the registration fees vary widely, from as low as $30 in some cities to about $600 in Oakland.

Richmond, which for years has struggled with a heavy concentration of vacant and blighted properties in some neighborhoods, already has some of the region's strictest laws in dealing with foreclosures and vacant properties.

The city imposes daily fines of $1,000, up to $30,000, on owners who fail to maintain foreclosed residential properties.

The council passed the first reading of the new ordinance by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Corky Boozé the lone dissenter.

Boozé, who for years battled the city over the condition of properties he owned before being elected to the council, said the new law was more "heavy-handedness" by city Code Enforcement.

"You already have the tools you need," Boozé said to Aljoe and Code Enforcement Director Tim Higeres. "This is just an attack on poor people, the unsophisticated. If they don't give you a written plan, you beat them up."

The other council members disagreed.

"This is far from being an attack on the poor," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said. "This is a way to help our poor communities ... we have a big problem with abandoned property."

The city's staff report said the financial effect of the ordinance on city funds "is unclear at this time ... (and) will likely include the costs of a required fee study and the implementation of a registration program, including the development of registration forms and tracking and enforcement procedures ..."

Aljoe said the city has no database of vacant properties, but city officials use online subscription services to track vacancies.

The final reading of the ordinance could come before the council next month.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.