SARASOTA, Fla. -- The City of Sarasota is taking steps to put a stop to zombie homes -- those properties that sit unattended and unkempt after a foreclosure.
There are fewer foreclosures on the market these days to be sure, but the problem remains big enough for city officials to feel the need to act.
Foreclosed homes -- with overgrown grass and in some cases squatters -- have long been a problem on the Suncoast, but a unanimous vote by the Sarasota City Commissioners to move forward on a foreclosed property registry has some hoping a solution is at hand.
"We're seeing some,” says Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman of home forclosures. “How many do we have to see before we act?"
Chapman and her fellow commissioners aren’t waiting around, and the group homes a foreclosure registry will help put an end to unsightly foreclosed homes that many say hurt property values.
"We want to make sure that when this property is registered that we have some sort of contact with the bank or the mortgage company to make sure that they maintain the property and do not damage the neighborhood in which the property sits," Chapman says.
According to the proposal, homeowners who are in default will be required to pay a registration fee and register their property with the city's code compliance department. At that time they will also have to designate a point of contact for all concerns pertaining to the property.
Timothy Litchet, head of city’s Neighborhood and Development Department, says the list of responsibilities will go much further. "The mortgagee must also perform an inspection within 15 days from the date the mortgagee gives us intent that they are foreclosing on that property,” he says. “They are also under an obligation to inspect that property every 30 days thereafter."
Those who fail to register or perform the inspections would have to pay a penalty. There will also be consequences for not keeping up with city code, but the proposal has those on both sides of the issue reacting.
"I think it’s important that if the property becomes in disarray that we know who to contact to keep the city looking clean," says Sarasota resident Michele Jerman.
"I would not be in favor of the registry,” says Sarasota resident Judi Klug. “I think it’s difficult enough to go through a foreclosure."
"Yes, I think it’s a good idea the neighbors have some options when a house is in foreclosure to make sure that the property is kept up properly," says Sarasota resident Peter Cleaves.
Despite the mixed feelings among residents, city officials are moving forward and Commissioner Chapman says they aren't alone. So far about 200 Florida jurisdictions, including some areas in Hillsborough and the Miami area have implemented similar ordinances.
"Other places across the nation have implemented these ordinances and had success in making sure these properties are handled appropriately," Chapman points out.
A second reading of the proposal is expected to take place before the commission in the coming weeks.