A Strategy for Banks: Don't Foreclose
As Powder Springs officials continue to deal with unkept, unsightly properties around the city, the city solicitor revealed a plan from banks Wednesday that keeps from having to pay the costs of maintenance.
A person with a mortgage abandons their house, but then the bank uses the strategy of not foreclosing, thereby leaving ownership with the buyer and not taking responsibility for the property’s upkeep.
Powder Springs is among many cities struggling with finding a solution on how to handle such properties as their grass grows unchecked and there isn’t any maintenance, City Solicitor and Marietta attorney Randall Bentley explained to the City Council at Wednesday’s work session.
“Bank boards are sitting around making determinations that they’re not going to foreclose on certain properties they have” so they won’t have to pay to maintain them, he said.
At Councilman Al Thurman’s town hall meeting in May, residents voiced frustrations over abandoned houses. There, one resident noted how she receives code ordinance citations for oxidation on her siding while grass at a vacant house is overgrown.
With the city containing “a lot of abandoned houses,” it “doesn’t seem fair” to get citations for minor infractions while those properties aren’t maintained at all, the woman said.
An extreme case Bentley noted Wednesday is the charred remains of a house on Ponderosa Lane (see attached photos). It has looked the same way since January 2011, when Michael Rowe, 52 at the time, allegedly hit his wife in the head and set the house on fire. She died in the incident.
Bentley said the delay in clearing the house came from Rowe’s assigned defense attorney being permitted to test the property for evidence. But that allotted time is now over, and the city has been given permission by a judge to proceed with clearing the property, he added.
The low bid for cleaning it up stands at about $3,500, Bentley said.
“I know it’s an eyesore, and I know the neighbors have complained as it relates to snakes,” he said.
The property’s owner, Bank of America, has been “very difficult to deal with,” and the process of getting the bank to take care of the house has been drawn-out, Bentley said.
For properties that show no signs of being improved, the city can enact a lien, he said.
Officials can also look to a judge for a nuisance abatement order, which can result in the house being demolished, Bentley said.
But, he added, with strict nuisance laws that must be handled by an attorney, plus the cost of demolition, the process can be costly.
“Y'all have to make the decision if you want to spend city funds to get a piece of property cleaned up,” he said.
Bentley said the city does work with residents who receive code ordinance violations if they are moving toward improvement.
A rental house “looked awful” after the tenants moved out, and the owners were given $3,900 worth of citations, Bentley said.
The city made accommodations as they worked on the house, and the fines were eventually lowered to $810, “which is a lot of money, but you can’t imagine what this looked like,” he said. “It was atrocious how bad it looked.”