Ordinance requires notification
After his neighbor's home was foreclosed last June, a representative from the bank gave Jim DeFranciso a card and told him to call if there were any problems.
"He did absolutely nothing," DeFranciso said.
And the Airipine Avenue home had no shortage of problems. During Hurricane Sandy, the aluminum siding fell off the house and scattered across the neighborhood. The grass is 41 inches high, there are dead animals in the backyard and mice having been getting into DeFranciso's home. And as of May 21, that bank no longer owns the home.
DeFranciso, who is a mailman, knows of five other properties in the area with similar problems.
"This is terrible," DeFranciso said. "So hopefully [city council] passes this ordinance."
The ordinance DeFranciso is referring to would create a registry of foreclosed properties in Bethlehem so that code inspectors don't have to track down the mortgage holders.
Ted Mucellin, a representative for the Federal Property Registration Corp., said there were an estimated 331 foreclosed properties in Bethlehem.
"I thought it was 50 or 60," Michael Palos, Bethlehem's chief house inspector said.
Palos added that the banks don't call up to tell the city they have a foreclosed home. He said he often doesn't find out about a foreclosed home until the neighbors are calling up to complain that the grass is 42 inches high or there are rats in a property.
"By going with this program, [Federal Property Registration Corp] would give me a tool," Palos said. They would give me all the information. I would simply have to go online and I'm going to know what bank has this property and have a contact person. They would go as far as sending them violation notices if I want them to."
The registration fee for these properties would be $200 a year, which would be split with the firm.
Failure to register the property will result in a $1,000 fine for the first offense, an additional $1,000 for the second offense, $3,000 for third offense, $7,000 for fourth and a $10,000 for the fifth offense.
Allentown passed a similar ordinance last year and hired Mucellin's firm. He says that 70 of the 471 registered homes in the city have been taken off the foreclosure list.
"Some of those homes would have been sold no matter what, but I'd like to think that the keeping the database and requiring maintenance, observing that the maintenance is done and communicate to the banks about it helps," Mucellin said.
Requiring maintenance helps all of the properties around the vacant home, he added.
"Selling a house next to a vacant or abandoned property is difficult if there are maintenance issues because they already know about the vacancy and the maintenance issues make them extra nervous," Mucellin said.
The new ordinance is not a "silver bullet" that will end the foreclosure problem in Bethlehem, Mucellin added, but it is a tool that will save time for people like Palos.
The ordinance will have its first reading at the July 16 Bethlehem City Council meeting in City Hall.