Seminole County on Tuesday became the first Central Florida county to create a registry of foreclosed properties that will hold banks and other lenders responsible for maintaining vacant homes — including making sure that the lawns are mowed, broken windows are repaired and pools are cleaned. The new ordinance approved unanimously by commissioners will provide some relief to frustrated residents who for years have lived near vacant houses with tall grass, algae-filled pools and peeling paint because the properties were tied up in foreclosure proceedings, county leaders said. “We’re trying to get the lending industry to behave in a manner that is for the common good,” Commissioner John Horan said. “We wouldn’t do it unless we really had felt a need.” By early next year, banks and other lenders will be required to register their foreclosed properties with the county, including providing the names and phone numbers of agents.
Registration will be an annual fee of $200 per vacant property. A county code-enforcement officer could then use the registry to send a quick email or put in a phone call to the lender’s agent to get the property cleaned up. The registry also will give law enforcement a tool in combating squatters because it could quickly check the registry to see whether a vacant home should be occupied.
Several area cities have similar registries — including Casselberry, Sanford, Apopka and Ocoee. But Lake and Osceola do not. Orange County considered such a registry in 2010 but decided against it, mainly because the rate of new foreclosures began to dramatically decline that year, county officials said. Frankie Elliott, vice president of governmental affairs for the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, said her organization does not oppose Seminole’s registry. However, she said many vacant properties undergoing foreclosure proceedings are well maintained and those lenders also have to pay the registration fee. “You’re assuming there’s going to be an issue with the property simply because it’s vacant and it’s in the foreclosure process,” she said. Representatives of the Florida banking industry say they oppose such registries because a home or property undergoing foreclosure proceedings should still be maintained by the person who was making the mortgage payments, even though the person is no longer living in the home.
The registries are requiring lenders to maintain properties not owned by them, said Anthony DiMarco, executive vice president and director of government affairs for the Florida Bankers Association. But county officials said that, too often, representatives from banks and lending institutions have pleaded with county officials to reduce liens and fines totaling tens of thousands of dollars placed on unmaintained vacant properties.
The registry “gives us the opportunity to know who to contact … so we don’t have six-figure code-enforcement fines and liens,” County Manager Nicole Guillet said. Community Champions Corp. in Melbourne will compile the registry with ownership and contact numbers. The company also will assess and collect the registration fee from lenders. Half that fee amount will go to the county, and the other half would be kept by the company. email@example.com