Code for neglect: County cracks down on abandoned homes in foreclosure

— On the books, 681 Golden Gate Blvd. W still has an owner. Nature, however, is staking its claim.

Tall bushes now stand in for the once-trim yard and neat flower beds, obscuring the home. A breeze cycles through open doors and cracked windows. Mold covers the walls and ceiling.

“This is what we’re seeing more and more every day,” said Collier County worker Ray Addison as he picked through the home.

In a time of record foreclosures, abandoned properties often sit in neglect in Collier neighborhoods. While foreclosed owners have little incentive to clean or lock lost homes, banks are stacked with too many properties to notice.

Enter the county government. On Thursday, Addison, a Collier utility worker, joined 30 deputies, code enforcement officers and fellow utility employees to conduct a “sweep” of more than 200 such properties. The effort would identify code violations and other property issues that crop up when families leave and nature — or vandals — take over.

The Golden Gate Boulevard home was the wildest find of Addison’s morning. Amidst its finer touches, such as marble kitchen counters and stone tiling, trash and debris lay scattered across the rooms. Plastic cutlery, diuretic pills and liquor bottles were among the finds.

A dirty couch sat before a blasted-out television. A breaker box was stripped of its copper wiring, and the water heater was missing.

Where squatters began and the owner ended was difficult to discern.

“I’m surprised the track lighting is still here,” said Jeremy Florin, a Collier utility employee paired with Addison for the day.

Addison and Florin would document their discoveries on paper and by photo. Code enforcers will likely ask the owner, listed as the estate of Richard C. Ford, to lock the home and address other issues. If they receive no response, the county will take action, fixing any problems and placing a lien against the house.

All liens must be paid before a house is resold.

Thursday’s sweep was the largest performed by the county group, which calls itself the Golden Gate Task Force. It operates under the “broken window” concepts, which assumes that deteriorating properties become havens to vandals, squatters and thieves.

Deputies spoke of the worst houses they’d seen, those covered in gang graffiti and human feces or beset with structural weaknesses.

One house had a $90,000 lien on it, several noted.

Banks respond to the notices, task force members say. Without the sweeps, they may never know of the problems.

“They just kind of forget about them,” said deputy Bruce Cordivari.

Of eight homes visited by Addison and Florin, several had been reoccupied, and a few presented little problems. Doors were unlocked, windows broken and signs of squatters occasionally present.

Inside a house on 19th Place SW, a mattress lay on the floor. Addison toured the inside and locked the doors before leaving.

“Then when they come home this evening, they’ll have to break in,” he said. “Then they can go to jail.”

One home offered a more hopeful sign. Inside a single-story concrete home on 42nd Street SW, contractor Mick Sugrano, 42, drew up renovation plans. A partner purchased the home, slightly damaged by fire, for $65,000. Sugrano planned $50,000 of work.

The home is appraised at $133,600. Several potential buyers looked at it, he said.

“I just saw trash in the way, and I saw an opportunity,” he said. Everyone saw it and said, ‘I can’t do it.’”

With funding from a Fort Lauderdale investor, Sugrano and his company, M&M Home Solutions, are seeking other opportunities, as well. They currently have two homes. They want 50.

“We want to buy everything that’s available,” he said.

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