By Kyle Olson
When you’re facing foreclosure, it may seem like everyone is against you. But in California, as the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports, there are some people fighting back against negligent lenders. And they’re busier than ever.
Lori Miller and Patty Posey are code compliance officers, and they do a job that’s in high demand in foreclosure-ravaged southern California. They are responsible for going after banks and property owners who have foreclosed families out of their homes only to leave the properties empty and neglected. The two women are part of Riverside’s foreclosure strike team, which began in July of last year. So far they have opened 1,420 cases against negligent owners.
When a property is foreclosed on, responsibility for upkeep of the property reverts to the lender, and in some cases, that responsibility is not taken seriously, leading to littered lawns, knee-high grass and filthy, mosquito-infested swimming pools. After warnings fail to prompt property owners to take action, the city government goes after the wallets of offenders. In the past 14 months, Riverside has collected $200,000 in fines for offenses as minor as rusty fountains.
Miller and Posey are now the tip of the city’s spear. Riverside has cut the number of full time officers from three to two, and they now handle between 3,000 and 3,500 foreclosures, as well as other code infractions.
“It’s overwhelming,” Posey says. “Lori and I each have over 400 foreclosure cases.” She says a more manageable workload would be between 120 and 150 cases. As a result, the two have designated Wednesdays as “foreclosure days.”
Each officer methodically drives through a neighborhood, looking for violations. Al Brady, an official with the city’s code and enforcement services says their efforts have led to close to 75 percent of Riverside’s properties evaluated. With the pace of foreclosures, however, follow-up visits often turn up a dozen new cases.
One recent trip to Clydesdale Lane, a formerly prosperous street where the homes sold for more than half a million dollars, produced such a crop of secondary foreclosures. In one unlocked home, the previous owners had left so quickly that their curtains still hung in the windows. Miller and Posey say some homes require between three and four visits before they reach minimum acceptable standards.
The chief headaches the pair encounters in foreclosed homes are graffiti, vandalism and theft. The copper wire from backyard air-conditioners seems particularly popular for robbers, even if curtains are not.
Spotting a violation is the easy part, Posey says. Finding out who is responsible for the property is where the two really earn their salaries. “It’s like pulling needles out of a haystack, the whole process of whom to cite,” in this case taking information from the foreclosure notice in the home’s window.
The officers will place liens against houses in unacceptable condition, giving the owners 30 days to bring it up to code. These liens will keep the home from selling, so most banks will act quickly to smooth out the wrinkles. For those owners who don’t comply, Al Brady files misdemeanor criminal charges against them. In the end, most offenders receive fines of $1,000 per offense and a $3,000 penalty assessment.
Posey and Miller expect to keep busy. Another wave of subprime mortgages are due to reset before the end of the year and experts anticipate another 8 million foreclosures between now and 2011.
If you're facing foreclosure, it's important to remember that bankruptcy may offer you strong protections that stop foreclosure and help you stay in your home.
Source: The Riverside Press-Enterprise