BY DEMORRIS A. LEE
TARPON SPRINGS — The rising number of foreclosures has a ripple effect that extends beyond the homeowner and the bank.
The properties often become eyesores and violate codes, leaving cities like Tarpon Springs to deal with the fallout.
"The problem is going to get worse and we need to get our arms around it now," said City Commissioner Susan Slattery. "I can't get over the number of empty homes."
In an effort to manage the problem, the City Commission:
• Agreed the Police Department should use a budgeted $15,000 to clean up the properties that are bringing blight to some city neighborhoods. The cost for bringing properties within code will be placed as a lien against the properties.
• Directed Capt. Robert Kochen, the city's acting police chief, to develop a proposed ordinance that would require banks to register properties with the city as soon as it is known that foreclosure is an option. Several other Florida cities have taken the same approach. Kochen is to present the proposed ordinance at the commission's Nov. 17 meeting.
• Considered doubling the abatement administrative fee leveled against property owners from $150 to $300.
Kochen told commissioners last week that 39 of the 53 code violation cases in fine status, or 74 percent, are homes in foreclosure.
In many cases, the lawns are a mess with overgrown grass and shrubbery. If the homes have pools, the water is green and a haven for mosquitoes.
"An overgrown property is an eyesore that can lower property values, create health and safety hazards and invite crime," Kochen said.
The city of Treasure Island enacted the foreclosure registry ordinance last December, one of the first cities in the state to do so, City Manager Reid Silverboard said. It is the only Pinellas County city that has adopted such an ordinance.
Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Coral Springs are among 13 local governments in Florida that have foreclosure registry ordinances.
The ordinance requires banks to register a home with the city within 14 days after the foreclosure process begins. The registrant must pay a $100 annual fee or face a $500 fine. Silverboard said the city sent notice of the new ordinance to all the banks. "We had a number of foreclosed properties and we were not able to contact anybody," Silverboard said. "The ordinance is helpful because at least we have a name or contact at a bank."
Renee Thompson, a spokeswoman with the Florida Bankers Association, said the organization is not necessarily against the process as long as it isn't too involved. But, she said, there is only so much a bank can do.
"Banks are not allowed to do anything until they get the title," Thompson said. "They can't go on the property. There's a lot of pressure from both sides, from the municipality to the bank for the foreclosure process to move more quickly. But it takes time to move through the court."
Phil Guido lives on Riverside Drive and agrees the process needs to move quicker. He and other neighbors have watched a foreclosed home at 829 Riverside Drive sully their neighborhood. The grass on the corner lot is knee high and the pool is a deep green. The yard is often littered with trash.
"It's a little frustrating," Guido said, as he stood on his front porch viewing the overgrown property. "You do all the work to your property and then you look across the street. . . . You say to yourself, 'Well, I've done my part to keep my property up.' "
Guido said he and his wife have picked up trash near the foreclosed home and that another neighbor often cuts a strip of grass close to the sidewalk. "I'm glad the city is trying to take some action," Guido said.
James Dorsett owns property on Lincoln Avenue, where there's a home across from his property that's in disarray. "My biggest concern is safety," Dorsett told the City Commission last week. "We've seen snakes come out. I'm not going to go over and cut that grass because I don't know the liability. Please move on this so we can have a better looking city."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes or (727) 445-4174