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St. Petersburg may extend its lien amnesty policy

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council will vote Thursday on an extension of a lien amnesty program that has brought in almost $50,000 — money officials say might not have been collected previously.

The program, which started in April and ended Sept. 30, allowed property owners to pay 20 percent of their outstanding liens if their application was approved. So if a property owner had $2,000 in liens, the payment would be $400.

The program applies only to property owners with liens placed by the code enforcement board because of neglect or safety violations, not from assessments caused by homeowners' negligence resulting in the city mowing lawns or cutting tree branches.

The city has more than 4,400 liens on property, with some properties having multiple liens, said Todd Yost, director of the city's Codes Compliance Assistance Department. Since the program started the city cleared liens from more than 50 properties.

Once a lien is taken off property, Yost said, it can then be sold or equity can be taken on it. A lien leaves a "financial cloud" over property, he said, and with the state of the economy the goal is to help people out while still collecting some money.

"I think it's a success because even if our number is only 50 properties, that's 50 properties that have been freed up and can no longer been clouded by any financial encumbrance," he said.

Yost said the program has no added cost because the applications are being processed by an employee who deals with the more than 100 liens filed a month. After announcing the program, Yost's office received more than 500 calls and 70 applications.

As of February, the city had $10.1 million in unpaid property liens. And in 2007 and 2008, only $303,525 in liens were collected.

So for the $50,000 the city is collecting, about $200,000 is being forgiven. Yost said some liens stick on properties for 20 years, so this is an opportunity to help clear the books. The goal isn't to collect revenue, he said, but to keep properties in compliance.

"For only 20 percent, you get 80 percent taken off," he said. "That's a good deal."

At Thursday's meeting the council will vote on extending the amnesty through November.

Before an application can be approved, the property owner must also fix any code enforcement issues that resulted in the lien. The application cost is $50 for property owners or their authorized representatives, and $100 for nonproperty owners, such as potential home buyers or real estate agents.

Andy Boyle can be reached at aboyle@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8087.

St. Petersburg may extend its lien amnesty policy 10/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 9:50pm]
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