Every neighborhood seems to have one. And they’re not hard to spot.
They are foreclosures with a twist. Homes owned by small-time landlords that are in process of being repossessed by the bank. The investor’s name is on the tax rolls but they’ve been missing in action even before the property started going south. Even if you know the name of the bank that holds the loans it does no good until the legal foreclosure process is completed. That process is now taking upwards of a year or more thanks to the backlash from the robo signing scandal.
The tenants were served eviction notices but they either didn’t leave or they came back.
They are anything but good neighbors. They often don’t have water. The city turns it off for non-payment and then they bypass it. That results in the city removing the meter and shutting off the flow of water.
Electricity and natural gas bills have been cut off for non-payment. Some use noisy generators to keep the lights going.
Others - if they have a swimming pool - use that stagnant water to flush toilets.
Their yards make the worst hovel from Tobacco Road look like a leading candidate for the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.
If you are really unlucky they have dogs that they don’t control. Often times they have more traffic coming and going in the wee hours of the morning than the corner 7-Eleven. That - as those in law enforcement can tell you - is a warning sign of a bigger problem.
You call the police. They respond. They are caught in a twilight zone. They can’t order anyone out of the home or arrest them for trespassing because they don’t have a complaint from the owner. It is a hassle to find out who the mortgage holder is but that is an exercise in futility since the legal owner is still the party the bank is foreclosing on.
So what can be done?
In extreme cases, the city has stepped up its game. This week, City Manager Karen McLaughlin working with municipal workers exercised one of its few options. They declared such a home “uninhabitable” for public health reasons. They have the power to do that when there is no water and electricity to a house.
The posting gives police the ability to chase trespassers - a polite name for squatters - off the property.
As McLaughlin noted the ultimate letter of authority is just that - a letter from the property owner which is often a bank giving the police the power to act if there are people in a home that is supposed to be vacant.
McLaughlin correctly notes the city’s legal options are pretty limited in such cases. But she emphasized the city intends to work diligently and do what it can to try to get the problem under control.
Neither the city - nor neighborhoods - can afford to allow cancerous blight to take hold and grow especially given that the next wave of foreclosures is just now starting to hit.