Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Dunedin wants to do more than watch foreclosures go to pot

DUNEDIN — Living next door to 1551 San Diego Drive is no easy feat, John Davis says.

Shreds of blue tarp hang from the foreclosed home's roof and blow across Davis' lawn. Weeds consume the flower bed near the front door, which is shrouded with code violation notices warning of $100,000 in fines.

Plaster and wood pieces from the caved-in ceilings litter the front porch and back patio. The blackened backyard pool was a mosquito breeding ground until the city covered it.

"This has been an eyesore of the neighborhood for eight years. … It used to be a real nice neighborhood, but with things going on like this, it's going to pot," said Davis, 81. "And there's seemingly nothing we can do about it."

Change may be on the way.

The city wants to drive down the number of unsightly foreclosures and is researching a chronic-nuisance ordinance adopted by Madeira Beach last October. Madeira Beach has targeted problem rental properties. Dunedin wants to address long-term problems with homes in foreclosure.

Dunedin planning director Greg Rice says the ordinance would provide more teeth to enforce code violations by:

• Requiring parties filing foreclosure actions to register their name and contact information — basic data that cities often have trouble tracking down.

• Deeming repeat violators a chronic nuisance, and requiring the owner to create and stringently follow a corrective action plan. In Madeira Beach, repeat violators are those who accumulate at least three code violations in a month or at least seven in six months. So far, said Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford, the "three strikes and you're out rule" has worked.

• Tacking on city cleanup costs to the foreclosing party's tax bill when the city has to take action. City Attorney Tom Trask, who represents both Madeira Beach and Dunedin, said that fee would be considered a special assessment lien.

When a home is in foreclosure, Rice said, the city's code violation fine "is subordinate to the mortgage on the house," so usually "the mortgage is worth more than the home, and our lien gets wiped out," but "if we have thousands of dollars in tax charges, we believe that would get their attention."

That's because the lender continues paying the property taxes or risks losing the property.

Crawford said Madeira Beach's active approach to notifying absentee landlords about repeat violations has gotten them to correct problems on their own.

"It wasn't an attempt to drop the heavy iron fist of government on you. We're just trying to clean up our community," he said. "It puts responsibility on the landlord to rent to quality tenants and also to keep your property in good repair."

Consideration of a similar ordinance for Dunedin was first raised by Commissioner Julie Scales after southside residents at a November town hall meeting complained about rampant code infractions and crime.

But Rice says he's proposing that Dunedin focus on five or six of the city's 461 foreclosures that have been dragging through the court system for years.

He cites the San Diego Drive home as a prime example of a foreclosure that has taken a toll on the neighborhood.

The city hasn't been able to reach the owner through repeated phone calls or certified letters. Dunedin budgets $15,000 a year to mow lawns, but Rice said the city can't afford to invest thousands of dollars in new roofs or other repairs to foreclosed homes.

"We're not intending to use this on the everyday person," Rice said. "It's only on chronic problems that have an extended abandonment."

Dunedin commissioners will debate the measure Sept. 17.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

 
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