There are nearly 800 opportunities for an empty house to become a neighborhood problem in New Port Richey. That's the number of homes in the city that are in foreclosure proceedings, heading to auction or already owned by banks. The structures can become a nuisance or public safety threat quickly. 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.
Pasco County attempted to get a better handle on the problem previously by creating a foreclosure registry for empty houses. Tuesday night, the city of New Port Richey wisely followed suit when the council unanimously approved its own ordinance.
The problem with simply enforcing current rules prohibiting overgrown yards, trash, broken windows and other code violations is the uncertainty of responsibility, particularly after the occupants have been evicted. It is difficult to press a code violation charge when you don't know the identity of the legal owners. 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.
Under the new ordinance, lenders will have to pay $150 to register foreclosed homes with the city, and then secure and maintain the properties. Additionally, the identity of the property manager and 24-hour contact information must be posted on the house. It's a relatively simple way to encourage accountability from lenders and to try to inoculate neighborhoods from potential problems.
Consider it a creative tool to help code enforcement, a department facing an uncertain future because some employees are paid through the financially strapped Community Redevelopment Agency. Helping the city cope with derelict residential properties is in everyone's best interests.