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Abandoned and Vacant Property Registration

With the growing number of foreclosures throughout the county, many cities, both large and small, have enacted ordinances to combat the problem of abandoned, distressed and vacant property. The ordinances are designed to protect residential neighborhoods from becoming blighted through the absence of adequate maintenance and security and to prevent crime and vandalism.

Many of these ordinances require the holder of the mortgage or deed of trust on the property or the lender (collectively the “holder”) to register the property with the appropriate local authority, such as a community development department or a city building official, after the holder determines that the property is abandoned. Common Definitions To understand these ordinances, understanding the legal definitions of certain property types is needed. “Abandoned property” is a residential property that is vacant and under a current notice of default or notice of sale, or is vacant and has been the subject of a foreclosure sale where the title was retained by the holder of the mortgage or deed of trust involved in the foreclosure and any property transferred under a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure and sale.

“Building, dwelling or structure” means any building or structure used and occupied for human habitation, commercial, industrial or business uses, or intended to be so used.

“Distressed property” is a residential property that is occupied by a person having the right to use or having right of possession of the property and under a current notice of default or notice of sale, or has been foreclosed upon by the person holding the mortgage or deed of trust or has been conveyed to the holder of the mortgage or the deed of trust under a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure and sale.

“Evidence of vacancy” means any condition that alone or combined with other present conditions would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the property is vacant. Such conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • • Overgrown or dead vegetation;
  • • The accumulation of newspapers, circulars, flyers, door-hangers, or mail;
  • • Past-due utility notices or disconnected utilities;
  • • The accumulation of trash;
  • • The lack of water usage, uncut grass, or, in the winter, uncleared snow;
  • • The recurrent absence of household waste on collection days for the neighborhood in which the property is located;
  • • The absence of window coverings such as curtains, blinds, or shutters;
  • • The evident absence of furnishings and personal items consistent with residential habitation; or
  • • Statements by neighbors, delivery agents, or others familiar with the property that the property is vacant.
  • “Foreclosure” is the process by which a property, placed as security for a real estate loan, is sold at public sale to satisfy the debt if the borrower defaults. “Owner” refers to any person, partnership, association, corporation, fiduciary or any other legal entity having a legal or equitable title or any interest in the property. Common Themes of Ordinances While unique to the particular city, the ordinances share many common themes, including inspection and registration, maintenance and security, posting of a notice and penalty requirements.

    The holder must inspect the property before filing a notice of default. If after the inspection the holder determines that the property is vacant or shows evidence of vacancy, the property is deemed abandoned. The holder must register the property with the appropriate authority within 10 days of the investigation. If the holder fails to register the property, the city may register the property and charge the registration fees to the holder. Additionally, the holder must inspect distressed property on a monthly basis until the default is resolved or, if the property was previously occupied, when the property is vacated.

    Common registration requirements are:

  • • An annual registration fee;
  • • The name, mailing address, telephone number, facsimile number and e-mail address of the holder;
  • • The name, address and telephone number of the property owner; and
  • • In the case of a corporation or out-or-area holder, the local property management company responsible for the security, maintenance and marketing of the property. "
    The property must be maintained and secured and contain a posted notice. Common property maintenance requirements include:
  • • There must be no evidence of vacancy;
  • • The property must be kept free of weeds, dry brush, dead vegetation, trash, junk, debris or excessive foliage growth;
  • • The property must be kept free of newspapers, flyers, etc., or discarded personal items;
  • • The property must be kept free of graffiti or other markings; and
  • • Pools and spas must be maintained either in working order or be drained. All building openings must be secured, including the doors, windows, gates or other openings of any building or structure. In the different ordinances, the posting requirements are similar except that the sizes of the signs vary.