Seminole may tell banks to clean up blighted, foreclosed homes

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Martin E. Comas  

Published December 10, 2014

  

Seminole may tell banks to clean up vacant foreclosed homes.

With some imagination, it's easy to see that the vacant house on Suzanne Way near Longwood was once someone's dream home.

  
But today, it sits as an eyesore surrounded by expensive homes with lush lawns in the Jennifer Estates neighborhood.

 

The home which has racked up more than $61,500 in code-enforcement fines and liens has become so rundown that a family of bears recently took up residence on the back porch.

Now, Seminole County is working on a plan to protect neighborhoods such as Jennifer Estates from such blight by holding lenders responsible for cutting the grass, repairing broken windows and cleaning the pools on foreclosed homes.
On Tuesday, county commissioners will consider an ordinance that would establish a registry of foreclosed properties that would include phone numbers and names of agents for banks and other lenders that have foreclosed on a property.

  
That way, a county code-enforcement officer could send a quick email or put in a phone call to get the property cleaned up.
The county's action can't come soon enough for Jennifer Estates residents who have lost patience with the rundown structure that has been tied up in foreclosure proceedings for nearly a decade.

Screened enclosure has collapsed at the vacant home on Suzanne Way leading a family bears to take up residence in the pool area. The vacant house, which is undergoing foreclosure proceedings, has racked up more than $61,500 in code enforcement fines and liens.


  
"The yard has gone completely back to nature," said Roger Ancona, president of the neighborhood's homeowners association.
County officials say the registry will hold banks accountable when one of their foreclosed properties falls into disarray.

  
"If we have a specific name, it makes it very easy to contact someone and the get the issue resolved," said Meloney Lung, a manager in the county's resource management department. "So this is a means to help them take care of the property."
  
The registry also would provide law enforcement with a weapon to combat squatters because a police officer could quickly check the registry to see if a vacant home should be occupied, officials said.
  
If the ordinance is approved, Seminole County would become the first Central Florida county to have such a registry. Several area cities have similar registries including Sanford, Apopka, Ocoee and Casselberry.
    
"We like it because it definitely has given us an opportunity to get properties cleaned up and protect the neighborhoods," said Darrel Presley, director of community improvement for Sanford, which set up its registry in 2009.

  
The banking industry opposes being required to register foreclosed properties with a local government.
   
"Generally, we do not support it," said Anthony DiMarco, executive vice president and director of government affairs for the Florida Bankers Association. "The bank is only the lender, not the owner of the property. So you're asking us to maintain property that is not ours."
  
Ocoee established its registry about two years ago to get rid of squatters who had occupied a vacant home under foreclosure and also as a means of cleaning up blighted properties.
   
"It triggers the bank to say: 'Oh, we own that property,' and then quickly send a maintenance company to mow the lawn. And they would much rather send out a maintenance company than rack up fines and liens," said Rob Frank, Ocoee's city manager.

   
Seminole County plans to use Community Champions Corp. in Melbourne to compile the registry with ownership information and contact numbers. It also would assess and collect from lenders $200 per empty home. Half the fee would go to the county, and the other half would be kept by the company.
  
Lenders also would be required to inspect the property undergoing foreclosure proceedings. The property would be removed from the registry if it were sold.
  
Although the region's real-estate market is making a comeback, the rate of foreclosures still ranks high when compared with the rest of the nation.
  
In October, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties had 433 new foreclosure actions, a 13 percent drop from a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based real-estate-research firm. Statewide, foreclosure listings dropped 25 percent from a year ago.
  
In Seminole County, there were 138 completed foreclosures in October, according to the latest numbers provided by to RealtyTrac. That's a substantial decline from March 2010, when the county saw 360 foreclosures.
  
Ben Stofferahn, who lives in a neighborhood just south of State Road 436 near Altamonte Springs, says he is pleased the county is taking action.
  
Recently, a home on his street became overrun with weeds and tall grass after the property owner died and the bank started foreclosing on the property. The property has since been cleaned up.
  
"If this is a way to make sure that the banks have to maintain their properties to the same standards that I do and all my neighbors do, I think it's great," he said.


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