MARCO ISLAND — Marco’s code enforcement is facing a dilemma with the increase in code violations on properties in various stages of foreclosure. In most cases, no one wants to take responsibility, city officials say.
The problem — getting anyone to invest in taking care of the problems when the property has become a financial loss for the parties involved.
Another problem is that the city has received about $300,000 so far in code fines this year, but there remains $2.6 million in uncollected fines from properties in the foreclosure process, reported City Manager Steve Thompson.
Thompson and Community Development Director Steve Olmsted have proposed an amnesty program for outstanding code enforcement liens to recover money sooner.
When the code enforcement board met Tuesday, they weren’t happy that such a program was being developed without their initial input.
“From the chair’s point of view, I think that is a poor decision on behalf of the city. I suppose we should wait to hear what the reasoning is,” said Code Enforcement Board Chairman Tarik Ayasun.
The proposal developed by Thompson, Olmsted and City Attorney Alan Gabriel was sent to Council Oct. 9. The Code Enforcement Board is to review the amnesty proposal and share their recommendation to Council on the issue, Thompson said. Council is tentatively scheduled to consider the program in December.
Ayasun said it was discouraging that all collection letters are currently on hold.
“I hope they bring it to us as quickly as possible,” Ayasun said.
“The process that we have described for City Council emphasizes having the property owner correct the problem immediately, and, in exchange for doing so, the property owner receives a discount on outstanding fines,” Thompson said.
The suggested program is to offer a 60-day amnesty period to bring a property into compliance and then the fines and fees will be reduced to 25 percent of the total due plus any hard costs, such as pool and lawn service, incurred by the city. The decreased amount will be due by the end of the 60 days.
President of TransAtlantic Bank in Miami, Julian Mesa, came before the code board Tuesday afternoon ready to pay his dues, or at least part of them, after the small community bank invested in cleaning up a property for which they reported suffering a loss of about $500,000.
“Everyone wants to make an example of this gentleman to other banks. If they did the work, took the health hazards out, the city is willing to work with them,” Ayasun said.
“It’s different, from my point of view, than with other cases where we have no faces in front of us,” agreed Code Board Member Jose Granda.
Fines and fees of about $30,000 were lowered to $5,000, which is actually a larger discount than in the currently proposed amnesty program.
In this particular case, the city did not have many hard costs.
The bank fixed broken screens, removed debris and updated a deteriorating boat lift and dock at the property located at 1342 N. Collier Blvd.
“The $5,000 fine for going the extra mile is still exorbitant... The improvement in the house is both in the bank’s and city’s interest since we can sell the property at a better price and the city can obtain more tax dollars,” Mesa said.
He added that code boards should be used “as a hammer to force people to comply and keep the city beautiful, not to punish innocent parties that comply or as a revenue source.”
Despite Mesa’s apparent disappointment he said he wouldn’t appeal the decision because that would be more costly. He also said he knew from a financial point of view, the board did their best as the “city is being scrubbed for money like everyone is.”
“Let’s hope that the board can adjust the rationale to punish only those that do not comply.”
Meanwhile, many other properties in various stages of foreclosure are not coming into compliance as homeowners have left their homes behind and foreclosure proceedings continue to progress slowly. That leaves code enforcement in charge of “shocking” abandoned pools with chemicals, getting lawns mowed and pushing aggressively to get safety concerns such as deteriorating boat docks, missing pool enclosures and failing seawalls addressed quickly by property owners.
The cost for that work is being incurred by the city with the hope that eventually they will get paid back.
That requires short-sales at prices that leave some money left over to pay the city’s subordinate lien or in the case of foreclosure sales, a new owner that will fix the problems and come to the city to mitigate fines and clear their titles.
Another element of the process thus far that code board members have described as frustrating is that when a bank representative does come forward regarding a violation on one of their properties, they often claim ignorance of the problem or city lien.
“Someone always owns that property. There is never a crack where no one has owned the property,” said Code Enforcement Board Member Carol Glassman.
She said the logical, responsible thing would be for the banks to do a title search after the often several-month foreclosure process to see if additional liens have been put on the property.
“I don’t quite agree with squeezing the lemon as hard as we can for cash. But let’s go ahead with every case as expeditiously as possible because if you have to get in line, you might as well be second.”