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Tied council vote kills foreclosure registry

ST. PETERSBURG — Since the housing market crashed, houses with overgrown weeds, broken windows and pilfered interiors now dominate many neighborhoods.

Residents have grown tired of the eyesores.

To combat the problem, several City Council members supported a proposed foreclosure registry, which would have forced banks to maintain homes if they drew code violations in the seizure process. The registry needed the support of the majority of the City Council during a meeting Thursday evening.

That didn't happen.

The group voted 4-4 on the proposed ordinance, killing the registry.

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran and members Bill Dudley, Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy voted no. Those four represent areas of the city with the fewest foreclosures.

Had the ordinance passed, lenders would have had to pay $125 to register a property within 10 days of filing a foreclosure notice. And banks would have had to provide contact information for a property manager in case the homes fell into disrepair.

Kennedy said he had concerns about how a second mortgage holder would be affected by the registry. And, he said, banks aren't obligated to maintain properties until a judge grants them a title at the end of the foreclosure process.

"It's the obligation of the homeowner," he said about the maintenance. "I don't think this is the best solution."

Of the 3,699 active foreclosures in St. Petersburg, only 8 percent have been cited for code violations, according to the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

Danner didn't want to target mortgage holders who already maintain the properties in foreclosure. He questioned whether the registry could hold banks accountable.

"If you're not complying with the code violations, what's going to make them comply with the registry?" he added.

Council member Karl Nurse spearheaded the proposal for the registry, which he previously attempted to create in 2010. At that time, he dropped the request and now regrets it since neighborhoods are saturated with dilapidated homes.

The city, he said, shouldn't be spending taxpayers' money to mow lawns and board windows after homeowners vacate properties.

"It should be obvious that this is a problem that isn't going away for some time," Nurse said. "This is something that has worked in other areas."

Several residents who spoke in favor of the proposal told the council that banks caused the foreclosure crisis and should maintain the homes.

Such registries aren't new to Florida.

Cities across the Sunshine State formed them in 2009 and 2010 after the initial foreclosure onslaught. Officials have lauded them for helping control blight.

In many foreclosure cases, homeowners still live in the homes and maintain them as the court cases takes two years or longer. Many others try selling the homes in a short sale even after a lender files foreclosure papers.

Brian Shuford, a lobbyist with the Pinellas Realtor Organization, urged council members in the last week to vote against the registry. He described the $125 fee as a "tax on foreclosures" and said it penalizes homeowners trying to modify mortgages or sell in a short sale.

The "council agreed with us that it was overreaching," Shuford said. "It went too far."

The proposed registry could come back to life.

Kennedy said he struggled Thursday night with his vote. He intends to propose another version to exclude second mortgage holders and add a sunset provision to end the ordinance in two years.

He acknowledges the concerns that residents face with the vacant homes.

"It might be worth a shot to reconsider," Kennedy said. "We don't need to make regulations just for the sake of regulations."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Tied council vote kills foreclosure registry 09/22/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 22, 2012 4:31am]
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