POLL: Leaders disagree on approach to Marco’s abandoned homes

Article Highlights

  • Most people won’t fix a property until they own it and if the fines are too high they won't buy, Charlie Vollmer neighbor to abandoned home
  • Fine reduction offers little assurance city will get paid and properties quickly repaired, agree Code Board Members Tarik Ayasun and Joe Granda
  • “You can call the owner a crook, a bad guy... It doesn’t matter, we’re all getting hurt by this." Realtor Andrew Delgado

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— City leaders are debating whether the fight against foreclosure blight is more likely to be won with a carrot or a stick.

Several Marco Island City Council members proposed on Monday that the Code Enforcement Board have the power to reduce fines if a property is out of compliance, particularly when code fines on the foreclosure property are so expensive that no one will purchase the growing liability and fix the problems.

Lowering fines before problems are fixed won’t work and time will be wasted negotiating with non-committal owners, some code board members have said.

Members of the code board declined the power that City Council Vice Chairman Frank Recker proposed they have on Monday.

“I was baffled and shocked when he (Code Board Chairman Tarik Ayasun) said he didn’t want it,” Recker said.

Currently, the code board can only lower fines on properties that are in compliance with code and in a related decision, the Code Board indicated they only want to consider giving rewards after repairs are complete.

City Manager Steve Thompson proposed a code fine amnesty program in November to give property owners a limited time to fix their homes and get a 75 percent reduction in fines. The Code Board opposed that program and instead supported amnesty only for properties already repaired.

Ayasun and Joe Granda are among the outspoken opponents on the Code Board to reducing fines on abandoned properties with problems such as no protective pool barriers.

“The chair (Ayasun) believes this change will ruin the intent of the original mitigation process,” Ayasun said.

He and Granda say they fear a change would reduce the motivation for owners to fix their properties. Proponents of the change in policy say it’s the only way to remove a stalemate in selling foreclosed homes.

Marco resident Charlie Vollmer lives next door to a rat-infested abandoned property on a street peppered with homes worth nearly $1 million, according to Collier County Property Appraiser records.

He thinks lowering the fines for the home at 266 Seminole Ct. may be the only way to protect the city and neighboring properties from a failing seawall.

“My property is eroding into the canal... It’s falling into the drink,” Vollmer said.

Most people won’t fix a property until they own it and the fines are too high to encourage a buyer, he added.

The code fines on the home are about $270,000 and accruing at a rate of $500 per day, including a $250 per day fine for failure to connect to the sewer system and the $250 per day fine for the fallen seawall, reported Chief of Code Compliance Eric Wardle.

Andrew Delgado of Premier Plus Realty listed the house for sale at $299,000.

Homeowner Lazaro Carret was first cited for the seawall failure in February 2007. Carret purchased the home in 2006 for $600,000 and couldn’t afford the repair, he reportedly told code officers.

“He just threw away the keys,” says Vollmer.

Carret owns another home on Bald Ealge Drive purchased for about $750,000 in 2007, according to the Collier County Property Appraiser.

There are currently about 20 homes on Marco with code fines and liens worth 25 percent or more of the value of the property, Wardle reported.

“This one is one of the worst,” he said of the Seminole Court home.

During high tide Vollmer’s neighboring back yard is under about 8 feet of water. The city paid approximately $1,000 to protect Vollmer’s property and seawall from the same fate by cutting the neighbor’s wall from Vollmer’s and securing it with pilings, Wardle reported.

The city is in the position to stop the stalemate on the property, which can’t be foreclosed on due to the city’s approximate $250,000 first-priority lien, Delgado said.

Council agreed, in fall 2008, to decrease the fines to $25,000 when Countrywide was the believed owner. However, Countrywide didn’t accept ownership, failed to sell the property to a private owner and instead sold the mortgage to Bank of New York, which since filed a lis pendens.

The council action came after the first attempt in city history to foreclose on the property in June 2008. At that time, the fines were $70,000 and the city foreclosure was not successful.

Recker was reluctant to proceed with a revised mitigation plan after learning the code board members' stance.

“I don’t want to waste everyone’s time fighting our own code board,” he said.

Ayasun said lack of owners’ responsibility was among the reasons he didn’t want to reduce fines in foreclosure cases.

“It just continues to add time because the people who come before us aren’t taking ownership anyway,” he said.

Prospective buyers aren’t coming before the board, he added.

The Code Board should not have experienced such frustration because they aren’t able to listen to mitigation requests on the properties not in compliance, Recker said.

Granda said he didn’t like that the proposed ordinance offered little assurance that the city would get paid and the property would be brought quickly into compliance.

Council unanimously (7-0) decided to table the issue on Monday.

Recker said Wednesday that he hopes a solution can be found once the code board has more time to look into it. Meanwhile, Delgado and Vollmer hope it isn’t too late.

A cash buyer was willing to pay the city 10 percent of the code fine, fix the seawall at a cost of $18,000 and pay the sewer assessment of about $20,000, Delgado said. That buyer is going to move onto other opportunities now, he added.

“We’re at a four-way stop and nobody wants to move.

“Beautification and economic stimulus are being stifled by a poorly written code. You can call the owner a crook, a bad guy... It doesn’t matter, we’re all getting hurt by this. They’re not punishing the original owners, the deadbeats.”

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Comments » 14

d1120 writes:

There needs to be jail-time for these owners until the homes are up to code.

ajm3s writes:

These are civil fines that have been placed by Code Compliance and only they can resolve. Because the Board does not wish to resolve until the property comes into compliance, then all or any interested party will walk away given the open ended nature of the liens. The market will dictate whether the transaction will occur. The Code Board is now in the middle, acting as the potential market maker based on lien valuation. The blight in the meantime will continue because fines are escalating at $250/day and market values are continuing to decline or at best remain flat. But if the city maintains this stalemate, the likelyhood is continued depression of market values for surrounding properties.

Code Compliance has met critical mass or is it diminishing returns, they may continue to create fines but there is no movement. They work more and get less resoled. Is this what we call "beating our heads against the wall" or is it house.

If the Code Board does not wish to take this additional responsibility as suggested by Council of mitigating fines in the best interest of the city, then the city must enact or change its policies to guide the Code Board.

In a nutshell, the Code Compliance Board does not see the big picture, by refusing to take on additional responsibility. In keeping with government policy, I submit this in full compliance with HUD full disclosure policy.

Fossil writes:

Hardheaded old men that want to beat the poor over the head and jail them. Recker shows them the way to fix this problem and what happens? They sit and sulk and fume in their miserable belief that vengence is theirs and they will not change their mind. Meanwhile neighboring property is slowly being ruined and invaded by rats. I really hope those adjoining innocent property owners will sue the Code Compliance board and a Judge issues a hefty fine. Only on Marco Island. Why not lockup the Code Compliance Board for failure to perform resulting in damage to adjoining properties? Just do what Recker advances? Afterall he was elected by the majority wasn't he? Who appointed these s----- old men sititng on this board?

ajm3s writes:

Fossil: I hate to say it but I believe Code Board is appointed by each councillor. I agree with you, the mind set of the Code Board may be a type of "group think". Or maybe they just do not understand the situation. The second scenario scares me.

God Help us all!!!!!!!!!!

MrBreeze writes:

I say it's time for the "code Board" to be gone. Why do we need them at all? We have a building dept. That is who should be handling all of this.

250.00 Dollars per day fine? Give me a break only on "Marked Up Island" will you see this.

GBR writes:

If I understand this correctly, the house in question collects fines at the rate of $250 per day, has a failed sea wall, and is already overpriced. And the code board won't back down.

BRILLIANT!! Absolutely brilliant.
Usually one must go to the mental hospitals for progressive thinkers like these.

;-)

Fossil writes:

GBR; not only do you have it right but the City cannot find anyone to accept ownership! I wonder how long this issue will burden the city clerk that keeps taging a daily fine to NOBODY! That clerk must think the majority of the City Council are idiots. Come to think of it.....

bigdog1970 writes:

AHHHH, the code board, made up of arrogant little ten cent millionares, who have in the past, illegally performed work on the own houses,offices and buildings without permits and inspections (Tariq) and have put up illegal structures on their docks (Peepee Granda). Just ask some of the code enforcement officers and some of the city inspectors.
I stand corrected in another article that I commented on, about the pythons, the two that got away are Ayasun and Granda!!!!!!!!!

ajm3s writes:

in response to GBR:

If I understand this correctly, the house in question collects fines at the rate of $250 per day, has a failed sea wall, and is already overpriced. And the code board won't back down.

BRILLIANT!! Absolutely brilliant.
Usually one must go to the mental hospitals for progressive thinkers like these.

;-)

Based on the Code Board's position it is their intended consequence. And we all get nervous when we hear politicians talk of unintended consequences. Not on Marco Island, we must enforce to the detriment of others (that would be adjoining properties).

Code Board run amuck!

costarica (Inactive) writes:

Code enforcement and the government should be part of the solution, NOT part of the problem. Our real estate values have been hit hard enough without having additional burdens from our government put upon us. Please put some common sense into the situation and let up on the fines. Enough already! We are all just people trying to make it in a very tough economy, we don't need extra burdens to carry imposed by our government.

Stilllaughing writes:

As I posted on another article.
We need to pray for our leaders.
Psalm 109:8

naples_rocket writes:

okay...
so what would all of you suggest? How should code enforcement or whoever make property's owner fix her seawall?
No doubt, $250/day is ridiculous, but what would be a better option?
Jail? That won't fix anything.
Let city fix it for our tax dollars and try to get that money back from the owner?
????

iHeartBeaches writes:

The City of Marco Island has NOT fixed any of these issues. The seawall is still falling in and other homes have similar issues affecting their neighbors.

How can the City justify charging someone $91,250 / year for a "violation" that is still in disrepair? If the City paid to fix the seawall, I could understand charging a per diem fine for "interest" on the money spent. But... $91,250 ($182,500 for the house in the article) for noticing a violation and having Erik Wardle or Liz Carr send a letter once a week is ludicrous.

I agree that something needs to be done with these homes... but a home that is already in foreclosure is NOT GOING TO BE REPAIRED by the current owner. The City isn't going to force this to happen by charging them $250/day. If they had the money to pay the City... they would have fixed the seawall to begin with. Or at the very least they wouldn't be in the foreclosure process.

ajm3s writes:

in response to naples_rocket:

okay...
so what would all of you suggest? How should code enforcement or whoever make property's owner fix her seawall?
No doubt, $250/day is ridiculous, but what would be a better option?
Jail? That won't fix anything.
Let city fix it for our tax dollars and try to get that money back from the owner?
????

The Council was going to vote to allow the Code Board the power to negotiate the fees, but the Code Board recommended that the Council not give them this power. The Code Board is the final review board for code violations. By insisting that the property come into compliance before they will entertain a reduced or fixed fine will drive away all interested buyers who are willing to invest in the distressed property. Without a firm cost set by Code Board the buyers will not commit.

To have the city purchase the property and fund all repair costs, is another form of government interference with market conditions while the taxpayers foot the bill.

I like market forces to determine values; when properties are abandoned for a host of reasons, Code Ordinance fees now changes this dynamic by burdening the properties with unsustainable cost that the free market will not tolerate.

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