Lake Worth's approach on empty homes includes citing banks, assessing properties

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Willie Howard

Published August 23, 2011

William Waters, director of the city's Community Development Department, is working on multiple fronts to address a chronic problem in the heart of the city: abandoned homes and apartments that invite crime and devalue neighborhoods.

Waters will propose an ordinance to city commissioners in October that would allow the city to add to property tax bills expenses incurred while cleaning and boarding up abandoned properties.

It would be patterned after chronic nuisance codes approved by West Palm Beach commissioners this month .

The city also plans to offer banks the option of deeding foreclosed homes to the city if the banks are willing to pay costs for cleaning or demolishing the properties. The banks could eliminate foreclosed properties from their books and end maintenance costs.

"In many cases, it would be cheaper in the long run for banks to go ahead and give them to us," Waters said.

Donated properties would be placed in a land bank that could be used for low-income housing, open space or community gardens.

About 180 properties in the city are in some state of foreclosure and have code violations. The problem is, many are in legal limbo.

Trash covers the property at bank-owned 17 South E St. in Lake Worth. 'The buildings were open and people were squatting in them, said William Waters. They have since been painted and secured.


  

With some of the foreclosed homes, records show final foreclosure judgments have been made in court. But even years after the final judgments, in some cases the lender has not taken title to the property, leaving the city with no one to hold responsible.

"They have not received a certificate of title, so it still shows up in the former owner's name," said Al Vega, a team leader with the city's Code Compliance Division.

As a third angle of attack on the problem, Capt. Rolando Silva of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's District 14 office is sending letters to banks notifying them about crimes that have occurred around foreclosed homes and informing them they could be held liable for future crimes on their property.

"You may want to seek legal advice from an attorney on this matter," Silva wrote to one bank.

The sheriff's office letters also list code violations on the properties, update the banks about code fines owed and remind them Lake Worth requires foreclosed properties to be registered online at www.vacantregistry.com .

"We're going to get aggressive," City Manager Susan Stanton said. "We're going to start citing the banks and assessing the properties."

Commissioner Scott Maxwell, who represents District 1 in the city's southwest quadrant where many foreclosed homes are located, said the multifaceted approach to dealing with foreclosed homes is needed.

"Any pressure we can bring to the folks in town who aren't doing the right thing will be a good thing," Maxwell said.


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