There are 14,000 opportunities for an empty structure to become problematic for neighbors and their local government.
That's how many foreclosure cases are pending in Pasco County (including the six cities) and the multitude of foreclosed or abandoned homes can become a nuisance or public safety threat in a hurry. Consider: A neglected home with a swimming pool is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a potential drowning hazard. Abandoned houses without boarded-up windows are invitations to thieves and squatters. Unkept yards can lower property values.
Following the lead of several other local governments, Pasco County wants to get a better handle on preventing the potential problems via a foreclosure registry. Commissioners introduced a proposed ordinance Tuesday and will hold a public hearing and final vote in December. They should not hesitate to adopt it.
The ordinance will require the loan holder to register the property with the county within 10 days of filing the foreclosure. The registry will certify whether the property is abandoned, vacant or showing evidence of vacancy (green water in the pool or overgrown vegetation) and the loan holder will be required to secure and maintain the premises.
The problem with simply enforcing current rules that prohibit overgrown yards, trash, broken windows and other county codes is the uncertainty of responsibility, particularly after the occupants have been evicted. Without knowing the identity of the legal owners, the county cannot determine whom to charge with a code violation. Complicating the situation is that lenders are regarded as victims in foreclosure cases so it may not be possible to make code violations and fines stick.
Unsolicited testimony Tuesday showed the timeliness of the proposed ordinance. Immediately before introducing the proposal, commissioners heard from a resident of the Lakes of Regency Park who told of squatters, vandalism and criminal activity in her neighborhood that she blamed on the proliferation of abandoned housing.
A foreclosure registry is a creative way to help code enforcement, a county department that is increasingly relying on volunteers because of budget cuts. The proposed ordinance is a logical tool to help the county cope with the abundant number of derelict properties.