Code enforcers stymied by volume of foreclosed homes

PAUL LAMISON/STAFF
The home at 16205 Copperfeild Drive in Tampa has been vacant and broken into several times.
The home at 16205 Copperfeild Drive in Tampa has been vacant and broken into several times.
PAUL LAMISON/STAFF
This home at 6432 Sawyer Road in Tampa has boarded up front doors and windows
This home at 6432 Sawyer Road in Tampa has boarded up front doors and windows
PAUL LAMISON/STAFF
A notice hangs on one of the thousands of vacant Hillsborough County homes in foreclosure.
A notice hangs on one of the thousands of vacant Hillsborough County homes in foreclosure.
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By SHANNON BEHNKEN | The Tampa Tribune

Published: December 10, 2010

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TAMPA – One half of a duplex condominium in Town N’ Country is all decked out for the holidays. A wreath is on the door, plastic snowmen line the driveway, lights on a Christmas tree shine through a window.

But as hard as the resident tries, she can’t overcome the gloom of the abandoned unit next door.

“I just quit trying,” Jerrica Lamb said. “What am I going to do?”

The owner of the adjoining condo left shortly after her lender filed for foreclosure in 2007. It didn’t take long for the property to fall into disrepair. Trash litters the yard, windows and doors are broken. The pool is unsecured, and vagrants break in from time-to-time.

Hillsborough County Code Enforcement knows the property well. It’s charging $400 a day for violations. The tab is now more than $240,000.

And the worst part, says Gene Minkel, a code enforcement supervisor, is that there are hundreds of homes in just as bad of shape all over the county. He says it’s because uninformed homeowners leave a property too early, before a lender follows through with a foreclosure.

As Tampa Bay’s foreclosure rate continues to rise, code enforcement officers’ frustration grows, too. They’re called to the same properties over and over again, and it’s nearly impossible to persuade some owners to cleanup homes.

At the same time, the department’s budget has been cut multiple times. Money many thought was set aside to repair abandoned foreclosure homes is instead going into the county’s general fund.

As local homeowners are painfully aware, the foreclosure process can drag on for years. But as long as the property is in the homeowner’s name, it’s their responsibility to maintain the house.

“The scary letters, the embarrassment of not being able to pay your mortgage, I understand that, but if you stay in the house, maintain the property, it’s going to be better in the long run,” Minkel said. “You can maybe save a few bucks, keep the house in decent shape.”

Property records show that the owner of the deteriorated duplex is now renting an apartment in Tampa.

“This is still her home,” Minkel said. “She could be living here for free instead of paying rent somewhere.”

Minkel routinely fields questions from neighbors who want the county to pay for securing properties.

Rose Ferlita, a former county commissioner, said she voted last year on a new fee that requires lenders to pay an extra $100 for every foreclosure. The money, she said, was supposed to help with cleanup.

“To the best of my knowledge the fund was earmarked for exactly that, to give the neighbors in that area some relief from the properties that were abandoned,” said Ferlita, who is running for mayor of the city of Tampa.

Code enforcement officials told the Tribune at the time that the money would go toward mowing lawns and securing pools at abandoned homes.

The county collected more than $158,000 in the first fiscal year and $28,000 since September. But none of the money has gone toward improvements.

Eric Johnson, management services administrator and budget director, said the county’s budget has been slashed, and the money collected from lenders is used to keep the code enforcement department operational.

“The key here is that the money is not sitting in a fund somewhere,” Johnson said. “It’s in an account that takes care of payroll every two weeks.”

There is a separate clean-up fund, but the money has dwindled yearly, from $50,000 to $25,000 to $15,000, which is allocated for this year. But even with so many problematic homes, getting access to the money is no easy feat.

Only the “worst of the worst” homes are approved for a one-time cleanup, said Jim Blink, a code enforcement manager. For example, the grass may be mowed if it’s particularly tall. In order to qualify for the help, though, a property must have outstanding fines, be abandoned, and it must go before two hearings of the code enforcement board.

Johnson said the county is working on additional ways to help clean up foreclosure homes.

“We’re looking at the challenge of what we, as a government, legally can do to help the people in neighborhoods impacted by the widespread nature of foreclosures,” Johnson said.

In the meantime, code enforcement plans to ask the county to bulldoze an abandoned Temple Terrace home. It was taken over by area gangs, then set on fire. The foreclosure was recently dismissed by the lender.

“It’s sad,” Minkel said. “It was probably a nice home at one time, and now nobody wants it.”

Reporter Shannon Behnken can be reached at (813) 259-7804 or sbehnken@tampatrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @TBORealtyCheck.

4 Responses

  1. State budget problems are preventing exposure of foreclosure fraud. As a result, state courts are granting foreclosure without question.

    State budget problems are equivalent to Europe countries debt problems. But, we cannot be continued victims.

  2. […] the article here: Code enforcers stymied by volume of foreclosed homes   Tags: corruption, gtc | honor Posted in: […]

  3. Eric Johnson [gov suckling], management services administrator and budget director, said the county’s budget has been slashed, and the money collected from lenders is used to keep the code enforcement department operational.???? hahahaha Pay roll
    for employees of code enforcement that dont do anything except collect a check & pension..what a fuking joke..
    AND code enforcement of WHAT – their lunch time?!…
    tell those USLESS wankers…to get a lawn mower ,take a state judge, Eric Johnson,Gene Minkel ,Jim Blink …get out there mow the lawns & start cleaning up this mess!! They are PART OF THE PROBLEM!
    STARVE THE MONKEYS & WELOME THE COLLAPSE!

  4. Hold the Bank responsible by charging them a daily fee. Record this against the property so that the property cannot be sold until the bank pays up.

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