Waist-high weeds and heaps of trash are regularly seen in neighborhoods across the United States, thanks to the credit crunch and foreclosure rates that are soaring nationwide.
But many cities are fighting back, demanding that property owners – often the banks that repossessed the properties – pay to keep these houses from falling into disarray.
The state of California as well as Providence, R.I., and Trenton, N.J., for examples, are pushing plans to keep taxpayers from bearing the burden. "Cities are trying to push the costs of maintaining these properties off on the people holding title to the properties," says Chris Hoene, director of policy for the National League of Cities.
If not, cities must pay someone to clean these lots, a costly undertaking. In Cleveland, for example, it costs seven cents a square foot to cut an overgrown lot, according to city officials. Since the average lot is 4,200 square feet, that comes to $300. Cleaning a yard filled with trash can cost $1,000 and boarding up an empty house runs about $500.
Many towns with swaths of foreclosed properties are cash-strapped too; fewer property-owners mean lower municipal tax revenues. In California, with foreclosure filings up 112% this year, the Senate recently passed a bill authorizing local governments to impose fines of $1,000 a day on banks and mortgage companies that fail to perform upkeep on foreclosed homes.
The idea is to encourage banks to sell repossessed properties fast so new owners will maintain them again. Congress is trying to address the problem. A bill before the House would allocate $15 billion for neighborhood renewal.
Foreclosures can devastate nearby property values. A Temple University study found that homes within 150 feet of vacant properties in Philadelphia, for example, lost an average of $7,627 in value.