The needler in the haystack.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Council considers foreclosed properties crisis


This property on East 6th Street behind Grace Episcopal Church...

... and this one on Kenyon Avenue have been vacant for years.


Plainfield
City Council is slated to take up tonight two ordinances (MC 2014-34 and MC 2014-35) proposed by the Mapp administration to deal with the issue of vacant and abandoned properties and the crisis of foreclosures in the city.

How serious a problem is foreclosed properties?

When I discussed the issue in September 2012, I found 578 Plainfield properties in the foreclosure process (see post here). When I reviewed the issue again this past August, after we were supposedly recovering from the real estate crash, there were nearly 900 Plainfield properties in foreclosure proceedings.

Many of these properties are in unkempt, unsecured and potentially unsafe condition. Not only are they a visual blight on their neighborhoods, they depress the value of the homes of neighbors who may wish or need to put their properties on the market.

As I pointed out in the August post, other towns in New Jersey have begun to tackle the issues with the creation of vacant property registries and stiff fines for owners -- whether individuals, lenders or mortgage servicers -- who do not properly maintain the properties. This past week, Trenton under Mayor Eric Jackson became the latest New Jersey city to adopt regulations setting up a registry and fines.

Plainfield's proposed registry ordinance would require vacant and foreclosed properties to be registered within 30 days, with an initial annual fee of $500 (which would rise to a maximum of $5,000 per annum after the third year). Owners planning to rehab or renovate a property within 12 months could have the fee waived, but would be liable for it if the work were not completed in a timely fashion (an instance on Field Avenue comes to mind).

Violators of the ordinance would be subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for every day the violation exists or is not remedied.

Sounds stiff, but strong medicine is needed for foreclosed properties such as those pictured above, especially when the lenders and others responsible for them simply thumb their noses at the community.

The second ordinance specifically addresses the issues of properties in foreclosure proceedings, closing loopholes and asserting the municipalitiy's right to have accurate information on file concerning parties responsible for maintenance.

A quick scan raised two questions:

  • First, MC2014-34 refers to a 'register of all dwelling units of vacant housing', but later in the ordinance refers to both residences and other types of buildings. Are all the subject of the ordinance, or just residential?

  • Secondly, the penalties outlined in the new proposed Section 10.a seem to be at variance with Section 4.17 (Penalties), which appears to recapitulate a previous ordinance. Do the new penalties supersede the older ones? Should the older ones be removed? Or is there no conflict?
These ordinances should be welcomed warmly by the Council and without contention. However, this being Plainfield, one waits with baited breath.

City Council meets in a double-header session at 7:30 PM tonight in the Council Chambers/Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street.



  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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3 comments:

William Michelson said...

This is a desirable ordinance, but it will only go so far. The real problem is that many such buildings don't belong to anyone, if the owner has walked away. Sometimes the mortgage lender doesn't know, for many months, that this has occurred, and it may have no resources with which to take active possession and maintain the place.

In a situation of severe disrepair, the City's best response would be to demolish the building. Beyond that, what to do is a question of state law, and indeed we have a new statute giving localities more power to force repairs. I do not know a legal way (other than demolition) to cut through whatever civil, bankruptcy or foreclosure litigation may be underway or contemplated, just because of the effect on the neighborhood. But I recommend this ordinance since it goes about as far as a city can go.

Rebecca Williams said...

Dan,

It's bated breath--not "baited." LOL

Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Throughout the city, I know that neighbors living next to abandoned homes in disrepair have banded together to maintain the exteriors of those buildings (i.e. cutting the grass regularly, making minor repairs to fencing surrounding the property, setting rodent traps). The city should try to reach out to those folks and find ways to support them in their efforts (i.e. provide the rodent traps, offer the use of a city-owned lawnmower). Not an ideal solution, but better than waiting for a bank/finance company/bankrupt homeowner to assume responsibility.