Pierce County might require foreclosed homes to be registered and abandoned residential properties to be maintained or else owners could face enforcement steps, including penalties.
County Council member Stan Flemming, R-University Place, spearheaded the proposal after taking a tour last year of abandoned houses in his district on the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula areas.
Foreclosed, abandoned homes often become eyesores and health hazards, Flemming said. The problems include properties that are vandalized, filled with garbage, littered with syringes from drug use, and attracting rodents.
“It really does become a health and safety issue,” Flemming said. “What you end up with is a home that is not being maintained, that is detracting from the surrounding value of the properties in that neighborhood.”
The council’s Economic and Infrastructure Development Committee will review the proposal Tuesday. It will consider forwarding the resolution to the full council for approval March 26. A follow-up ordinance would be required for the changes to go into effect.
In most cases, the requirements and penalties would presumably fall to the lending banks or mortgage companies that take claim of foreclosed homes.
“Banks will argue it really isn’t their responsibility and it rests with the home purchaser,” Flemming said. “We’re saying, ‘no.’ ”
Flemming said he’s not aware of any county in Washington that currently requires foreclosure registration.
Jim Pishue, president of the Washington Bankers Association, wasn’t familiar with the Pierce County proposal. He said Friday that he couldn’t comment until he’s had a chance to read it.
The additions to the county code would require foreclosed properties in unincorporated Pierce County to be registered and would establish maintenance requirements for vacated properties. They stipulate a property should be kept free of graffiti, weeds, junk, debris and discarded personal belongings such as furniture.
The downward spiral starts when a homeowner walks away and the foreclosed property falls into disrepair, said County Council analyst Hugh Taylor.
The proposed resolution says the number of foreclosed properties in unincorporated Pierce County has increased significantly during the past five years.
There were 6,162 homes in some process of foreclosure in January, according to the online service RealtyTrac.
Violators potentially could be subject to range of enforcement yet to be finalized. Those options include violation of public nuisance provisions, civil penalties and criminal violations.
Flemming, who is chairman of the committee that will review the proposal, said existing provisions are inadequate.
“They’re very weak, and we don’t enforce them,” Flemming said.
Flemming’s tour in April with a Pierce County sheriff’s lieutenant included one house next to the Gig Harbor Little League baseball field that had been vandalized, was used as a dumping site and had become a home for squatters.
The wiring and windows had been mined for copper and aluminum. The walls and ceilings had been kicked in.
Those responsible for foreclosed homes would be required to register their contact information with the county, according to the measure cosponsored by council member Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma.
That’s important because once a house is abandoned, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible for it, Taylor said.
Registration “starts to create accountability and visibility,” Flemming said. It’s a mechanism to make sure abandoned homes are maintained so the county doesn’t have to clean up.
“The county can take enforcement action if they don’t,” Flemming said.