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Foreclosure trend leads to increase in unkept homes

August 28th, 2007 4:59 AM by Ron Mastrodonato

Foreclosure trend leads to increase in unkempt homes

MIRAMAR, Fla. – Aug. 27, 2007 – Miramar Code Enforcement Officer Paulina Vial crunched through knee-high grass, walked past multiple violation notices posted on the abandoned home’s front window and a mailbox brimming with mail, and came to the backyard pool filled with thick, green scum.

“Is that nasty, or what?” she said.

When a neighbor first complained about the house on Miramar Parkway, it was for sale. But since then, Vial said, the owner gave up and left. It now sits vacant and unkempt, a local eyesore and headache, one of a growing number of derelict South Florida properties left by a busted real estate market and rising foreclosure rates.

“We’re doing what we can,” Vial said. As dragonflies hovered over the pool’s stagnant water, she tossed in two hockey puck-sized tablets. The enzymes wouldn’t clear up the muck, but will stop mosquitoes from breeding, she said.

Code enforcement officers throughout South Florida have reported a rise in such homes, with neighbors calling to complain about uncut lawns, pools lacking child-proof fences and other symptoms of neglect and blight. At present, Miramar alone has at least 65 open cases involving unkempt properties in various states of foreclosure or bank repossession, up from the usual five a year.

Boynton Beach’s administrator for code compliance, Scott Blasie, said foreclosures used to account for only one of every 50 derelict properties he tried to place a lien on. Now it’s at least one out of every 10.

“The yard gets overgrown, the house gets broken into and the people coming in ... use it for drug use, prostitution,” Blasie said.

Glenn Sime, code supervisor of Coconut Creek, said the problem is a small but growing one for his city.

“There have been years when I don’t remember seeing a single property in foreclosure” with code problems, he said. “Now, we have nine to 12. All of a sudden, it’s more of a trend.”

Such vacant, foreclosed properties present unique challenges for the communities where they are located. Their owners are often less willing or able to correct a violation, and local governments have fewer enforcement options, said Bob Morgan, Miramar’s code compliance manager.

In normal cases, if homeowners refuse to mow their lawn or clean it of trash, cities issue fines. If those fines aren’t paid, cities slap a lien on the home and, when the home is sold, officials get their money.

But in cases of foreclosure, fines are no real threat to the owner, who has bigger financial problems, Morgan said. Putting a lien on the home doesn’t work either because when a bank files for foreclosure first, it is legally entitled to money recovered from the sale of the property. Unless there is money left over – and there seldom is – the city gets nothing, Morgan said.

“We’re shut down,” he said. “Then the public gets upset. They say enforcement isn’t doing anything.”

Generally, city officials aren’t supposed to go on others’ property. But in emergency situations, where safety and health are at issue, they can to fix the problem. In Lake Worth, code compliance administrator Armand Harnois estimated he has at least 26 vacant properties the city plans to board up, given endemic problems of gang activity and prostitution in certain areas. Although he does not have specific figures, he said many of them are vacant because owners have been unable to sell or rent them.

“They can’t even give them away,” he said.

Coral Spring’s chief code enforcement officer, Ken Maroney, said even aesthetic nuisances like uncut lawns and dirty pools can lead to health hazards.

“You have a tendency to accumulate snakes, all kinds of rodents,” he said. “With the pools, we worry about mosquitoes, we worry about children getting in it.”

Blasie, of Boynton Beach, said he often contacts the banks foreclosing on homes, in hopes they will take over the maintenance chores. Some agree, but others don’t want the liability until ownership passes to the bank. That can take months. Meanwhile, the weeds grow, the pool festers, the garbage dumped in the yard rots, and the neighbors fume.

“It drags on and on,” Blasie said.

Back on patrol, Vial pulled her truck up to another home and smiled as she walked to the backyard. The grass was a tad long, but the pool sparkled a crystal blue and a broken fence had been mended. The bank that foreclosed on the bungalow had been by and fixed the major code violations, a rare happy ending for Vial – and the neighbors.

“I’ve been dealing with this one for months and months, since the beginning of this year. But now, we’re OK,” she said. “They did a beautiful job.”

Copyright © 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Jamie Malernee. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Posted in:General
Posted by Ron Mastrodonato on August 28th, 2007 4:59 AM


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