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Harris wants city to get tough on foreclosure upkeep
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The lingering neighborhood scars of uncared for foreclosed homes could pump new life into the enforcement of Manteca’s aggressive property maintenance ordinance adopted in 2009.

Councilman John Harris wants municipal staff to come up with ways to use the ordinance to go after property owners - mostly banks- that take a cavalier attitude toward maintaining homes they have foreclosed on.

“We need to do something to improve the situation,” Harris said.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin said staff is looking at ways to possibly give the ordinance more teeth if that is needed.

Harris said it may simply be a case of making enforcement of the ordinance a higher priority by committing manpower to go after banks using the prospect of $1,000 a day fines for violating the ordinance as a hammer.

At one point Manteca - along with the rest of the northern San Joaquin Valley region - led the trend in terms of housing auctions, landscaping being left to die, transients breaking into foreclosed homes and disgruntled borrowers severely damaging homes prior to eviction. A number of them did everything from ripping toilets out to smashing bath tubs. Among the worst example in Manteca was a departing family that threw all of their household goods, furniture, garbage, and belongings they didn’t want in the back yard swimming pool.

Criminals took advantage of the situation to do everything from removing air conditioning units in broad daylight as no one -including the police - could determine who owned the homes since mortgages had been resold numerous times.

Police for the longest time were powerless to arrest trespassers for that very reason. Dozens of homes had copper wiring pulled from walls and tubs and sinks smashed as transients searched for copper.

Manteca eventually was able to turn the tide with what the national media described as one of the country’s toughest laws on the books against foreclosures. Banks were threatened with fines up to $1,000 a day capping out at $100,000 per home if they didn’t secure and keep property maintained.

Manteca leaders in 2010 also adopted a municipal ordinance dubbed “Responsible Property Ownership”. It gives Manteca Police a weapon to address habitual problems in neighborhoods by giving the city the authority to go after property owners for safety violations that would subject them to criminal and civil penalties.