DUNEDIN – Planning and Development Director Greg Rice has been working for the city almost six years. Some homes in Dunedin have been abandoned or in foreclosure for that amount of time.
That’s too long, he and other city officials said.
For the first few years they were able to maintain the properties by trimming trees, cutting grass and taking other steps.
“Now that we’re in the fourth, fifth or sixth year, we’re starting to see some deterioration of the actual structures,” Rice said at an April 3 Dunedin City Commission meeting.
City officials have not had the ability to abate such problems with the structures or had leverage with the mortgage holders.
They take properties to the city’s Code Enforcement Board and put liens on properties that are “long gone,” Rice said, “and very difficult to find. We most likely will never be able to collect anything from them.”
Consequently, the City Commission passed an ordinance on April 3 called the “chronic nuisance property code” on first reading that puts more teeth in the city’s code enforcement procedures. The city unanimously approved the second reading of the same ordinance on April 17.
The ordinance establishes registration procedures and measures to address criminal activity.
“Once we get a trigger and the property is declared a chronic nuisance, this ordinance is going to require that the owner provide an action plan to our Code Enforcement Board,” Rice said on April 3.
If that plan is not provided or not followed, city officials can go back to the board, which can allow city officials to take action to “fix these chronic nuisances.” Although it is based on the same rules that are currently in place, this would provide for “more tools in the toolbox” for what can be done about such problems.
“The difference between this ordinance and our regular code enforcement procedures,” Rice said on April 17, “the big, powerful tool that’s in this ordinance is that if on the sheriff’s side of things, if we are called out six times in six months for the same type of nuisance or criminal activity, it is going to require the land owner – the property owner – to provide an action plan for how the nuisance is going to be corrected. We have not had that in the past. So you could be called over and over and over again for the same thing and we didn’t have an awful lot of leverage.”
The other major area this addresses, Rice added, is that as people abandon properties and they end up in foreclosure, it can take an extremely long time for the mortgage holder to take back title to the property.
“In those cases, we are providing fines and liens on the persons who have abandoned the property that are often long gone,” Rice said. “So we don’t have any leverage on the maintenance of what’s happening on those properties.”
However with this new ordinance, those costs can be put on the tax rolls, which gives the city leverage with the mortgage holders.
“We do know that the mortgage holders very much pay attention to those taxes,” Rice said.
City Attorney Thomas Trask, who is also city attorney for Madeira Beach, said April 3 there were only two other cities in the United States that had such a code.
“So now that it was adopted in Madeira Beach, there’s that drastic change in compliance in that city. It’s been a very, very effective tool …,” he said.
Commissioners complimented Trask, Rice and city staff for developing the ordinance, saying it’s progressive and protects property values.
“I’m just happy that we’re taking the next step,” said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski. “The foreclosure situation especially that we’ve had over the last five years has really brought an inordinate amount of section blight, and this gives us an extra tool. So thank you.”