NEW PORT RICHEY – It seemed like a good idea at the time: Tell everyone this home is in foreclosure and here's who to call if the house falls into disrepair.
The county rule requires these public notifications to be posted at the front of the houses, usually in windows facing the streets. The intent is to keep a handle on neighborhood blight. In 2010, the year the County Commission adopted its registry ordinance, there were 14,000 foreclosure cases pending in Pasco and new filings reached 6,374 that year.
But the scarlet letter turned into a red flag carrying unintended consequences. The public notification brought with it instances of squatters and vandals taking liberties with the unoccupied houses.
"That is, you pretty much told everybody the house is vacant,'' said Joaquin Servia, development review manager for Pasco County. "There's nobody around, come in and help yourself to whatever is around."
So, the ordinance, which requires lien holders to register the property with the county after filing the foreclosure, is getting a proposed tweak. The properties still must be registered and the registry certifies whether the house is abandoned, vacant or showing evidence of vacancy and requires the loan holder to secure and maintain the premises.
Gone will be the requirement for the public notification under a proposed change to the ordinance. More importantly, however, the county wants to expand the rules to make them applicable even after the property is sold.
Servia called the current ordinance "the most important tool that code enforcement has in dealing with abandoned and vacant property." But, he said, the code compliance problems don't end just because the property is sold to the lender.
As a result, the county is proposing to expand the ordinance to require registration and maintenance obligations for properties owned by the lender after the foreclosures.
"It's bridging that gap between the end of foreclosure and ultimately when that property is sold to an individual,'' Servia told county commissioners last week.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey agreed.
"We know its not going to be pleasant, but we need to get a handle on these properties," she said about mounting code enforcement problems in some Holiday neighborhoods.
In the first three months of 2015, 574 new foreclosure cases were filed in Pasco Circuit Court, a nearly 17 percent decline from the previous year. But, there is still plenty of pending work for code enforcement officers. Over a five-year period ending in 2014, the Pasco courts saw more than 23,500 foreclosure cases filed while just 15,000 of the properties were sold.
The commission is scheduled to consider the ordinance amendment after a June 23 public hearing at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey.