America the Messy Yard Police State

Law makes mortgage companies snitch on messy yard criminals

Sounds like a law to make mortgage companies snitch on the owners of people with messy yards?

Mesa may get tough on abandoned properties

Mesa might adopt registration ordinance

by Gary Nelson - Jul. 6, 2010 09:59 AM

The Arizona Republic

The neighbors were there one day, gone the next, and never said a word about leaving.

What they left was a mess, one more abandoned property in a city that saw nearly 1,000 foreclosures in May alone, according to the website RealtyTrac.

"It's just scary," said Lori Johnson, who lives across from the abandoned house on South Barkley Street in Mesa. "We've had a lot of people lose houses in here."

Some of those houses have gone back on the market for prices far less than the $89,000 she paid for her house 14 years ago, Johnson said. The drag on property values is just one more worry for the unemployed accountant, who has been out of work two years.

The house on Barkley is a perfect illustration of what Mesa faces when it tries to do code enforcement on abandoned properties. Mesa put a sign on the window several months ago notifying whoever cares that the property had been abandoned - but that's all the city can do right now.

The house is still listed by the county assessor as being owned by the couple who bought it in early 2007. That means most likely it's in that twilight zone between abandonment and foreclosure - a time when Mesa can't pin down whom, exactly, to hold responsible for maintenance.

Mesa is hoping to fix that by joining about 300 other cities that have adopted abandoned-property registration ordinances.

But more is involved than just putting a property on some list.

"The real goal of that program is to try to find a responsible party between when a person walks and it actually goes into foreclosure," said Tammy Albright, Mesa's code-compliance supervisor.

Here's how it would work:

When a mortgage company determines a loan is in default, it would be required to inspect the property immediately to determine whether it's vacant.

If so, the company would be required to register the property with the city, make sure the place is secured and begin maintaining it. Maintenance would continue until the property is reoccupied.

The company would have to inspect the property monthly to ensure compliance. It also would have to provide contact information - a local property-management company, for example, if the lender is from out of state.

The idea was on the agenda last week for the City Council's community and neighborhood services committee, but committee Chairwoman Dina Higgins canceled the meeting.

Higgins said she wasn't satisfied with the amount of information in the staff reports that accompanied the registration proposal and a couple of other agenda items.

"I want to be prepared," Higgins said. "I asked for it to be delayed so we can have some better information."

Committee member Dave Richins said Mesa needs to talk about abandoned properties but "the devil's in the details." One issue not addressed in the staff report: What mechanisms and penalties would be in place to force compliance from lenders who often are large national corporations.

Dennis Kavanaugh, the third committee member, embraced the overall idea.

"I think it is an excellent proposal to move forward," Kavanaugh said.


America the Messy Yard Police State