Foreclosures cause headaches for code enforcers

Foreclosures cause headaches for code enforcers

July 22nd, 2009 by Andy Johns in News

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson Neighbors complain about an abandoned house on 129 Harvard Drive, in Dalton Georgia because the property is overgrown and the stagnant swimming pool is green and a breeding ground for mosquitos.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson Neighbors complain about an...

A slumping economy has been blamed for many things, but now code enforcement officials are blaming the recession for high grass and swarms of mosquitoes.

Officials in North Georgia and Hamilton County say they are forced to deal with a growing number of foreclosed properties at which mowing the grass or treating a swimming pool has taken a back seat to legal proceedings between the former owners and their mortgage lenders.

"Usually the people just leave (their homes) and they're gone," said Alan Parrish, code enforcer for Dalton, Ga.

Grass at one foreclosed home on Harvard Drive had grown 4 feet high, he said, and a swimming pool in the yard is a breeding ground for pests.

"Once that water starts turning, the neighborhood is covered up with mosquitos," he said.

Beverly Johnson, the Department of Neighborhood Services administrator for Chattanooga, said finding the owner of a foreclosed piece of property becomes a "moving target" as banks and courts move the deed around.

"You lose track of who owns it," she said.

Even when the owner can be identified, sometimes it may take weeks or even months for a bank to find a contractor to handle the cleanup, according to Catoosa County Zoning Administrator Buster Brown.

"It may be with Wells Fargo in Montana who's bought that loan," he said. "Then we've got to send them a letter. Sometimes it's not as fast as the residents would like."

At a recent commission meeting, Catoosa County Commissioner Ken Marks brought up a few complaints he had heard about neglected pools. He said souring pools, whether foreclosed on or otherwise, posed a danger -- and not because of mosquitos -- if they aren't gated, drained and covered.

"Especially with kids, you just never know," he said.

Ms. Johnson said the problem extends beyond safety. If the owner cannot be found or is slow to respond, city or county crews often mow the lawns or throw larvicide into the pools.

"The responsibility falls on the city, and the city is the taxpayers," she said.

Earlier this year, the department had to become more selective and handled only the worst cases, Ms. Johnson said.

"We simply had run out of money to take care of the problems," she said.