Beginning May 1, banks will be responsible for maintaining homes left abandoned by foreclosures after the Cape Coral City Council voted 5-2 in favor of an ordinance looking to shift the burden of the rising costs of maintaining abandoned homes.
Under the new ordinance, banks must inspect foreclosed homes and, if left abandoned, the homes must be registered with the city for an annual fee of $150.
The homes must then be inspected twice each week, and the banks are asked to maintain the lawn and vegetation surrounding the house, and remove any items left behind in the home after the foreclosure.
Noncompliance will mean daily fines for banks that hold mortgages on abandoned properties.
"We have essentially become property managers. For us it's a public safety and welfare issue," Mayor Jim Burch said.
Since June 2007, the city has mowed the lawns of 3,476 properties and boarded up the pools of 260 more at a cost of more than $200,000, according to Frank Cassidy, code enforcement division manager.
In the 2007 fiscal year, the city budgeted $16,000 for lot mowing.
Cassidy explained the current pace of situation is untenable for the city.
"At this clip we will lose half of our budget for this by the end of January," he said.
Not every council member, however, was pleased with the ordinance, and some thought it might open the city up to legal issues.
Councilmember Bill Deile worried the ordinance calls for banks to enter and inspect properties they do not yet legally own.
"My concern is that title has not passed yet the way the ordinance is written. The bank has problems entering a premise they don't have title to. They can't do that, nor should they be able to," Deile said.
City Attorney Dolores Menendez explained that the ordinance, along with similar ones passed in Florida cities like Coral Springs and North Lauderdale, may bring legal challenges because it is a new way to deal with the fallout from increases in foreclosures.
"When you're dealing with something new, there's always the chance the courts will rule against you," she said.
Deile applauded the intent of the ordinance, but voted against it because it required too much of the banks.
"It requires the bank to maintain the property at a higher standard than we require our citizens. I think that the goal we have here is worthy, but I think the measures go too far," he said.
Councilmember Pete Brandt joined Deile in voting against it, while Burch and Councilmembers Dolores Bertolini, Tim Day, Derrick Donnell and Eric Grill voted for it.
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