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Problem properties among community improvement concerns

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Renewed interest in private home upkeep is surfacing.

By MELODY JAMESON

SUN CITY CENTER — As residents here look ahead to their community’s second half century and leaders consider a million-dollar improvements program, renewed interest in private home upkeep is surfacing.

At the top of the priority list are properties which have become community eyesores; particularly unoccupied homes left to deteriorate, surrounded by tangles of overgrown vegetation hosting colonies of rats, snakes and insects.

 The SCC Community Association board, at least one candidate in the upcoming directors’ election and outraged neighbors all have weighed in on the subject, expressing concerns about community appearances, prospective buyers and property values.  

The best possible long term solutions may rest with Hillsborough County’s Code Enforcement section.

Some unkempt properties are foreclosures, abandoned by owners unable to meet mortgage obligations and eventually taken back by lenders hoping to recoup with a reduced price resale or the increasingly-used short sale process. In these cases, the property may become unsightly, but usually on a temporary basis until the lender assumes responsibility for maintenance.

Other homes, though, are the legal properties of indifferent absentee owners, uncaring about the effects and ramifications for entire neighborhoods of their intentional neglect, unwilling to rent or sell the houses. Such properties frustrate worried neighbors, plague CA leaders and bedevil code enforcement personnel.

A case in point is the dwelling at 1516 Ft. Duquesna Drive in the heart of Sun City Center’s north side.

Once the home of his late mother, James Richard Koch of Martinsville, N.J., is the current owner of record, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser.  The decaying dwelling and overgrown lot have been unwelcome neighborhood, community and county problems since 2006 when the first complaints were made, according to code enforcement section records.

While Koch, to whom the property passed when his mother died, does not live in or near the home nor does he check on it or maintain it routinely, he apparently does pay both annual property taxes and CA membership dues. County ad valorem taxes of about $1,500 on the non-homesteaded, concrete block dwelling of 1,320 square feet have been paid each year, property appraiser records show.  And the two-person CA membership dues totaling a little over $500 each year also are current, Community Association records indicate. (SCC homes are assumed to be residences of two persons until it is demonstrated a house is occupied by only one person. For unoccupied homes, CA membership dues are assessed on a two-person basis.)    

The paid-up CA dues preclude any remedial action that might have been taken under the CA foreclosure policy instituted by directors last year. Motivated initially by a growing backlog of unpaid dues, in 2010 directors established a process allowing for foreclosure action and legal assumption of properties whose owners had run up substantial dues arrearages which still went unsatisfied after warnings. The process could be applied only to homes with no mortgage lender involved.

Although the procedure has brought many delinquent dues accounts current, to date it has not forced any foreclosures, Ed Barnes, CA president, noted this week. And, if the dues account related to the Ft. Duquesna property is current, the policy leading to foreclosure cannot be made applicable in that case, he indicated.

On the other hand, the tools available to code enforcement personnel might be made useful in connection with the Ft. Duquesna house. – if disgruntled neighbors will deal with the timeframes required.

Code enforcement objectives always are focused on creating compliance with county ordinances, Bill Langford, a department manager, told The Observer this week. So, when a complaint about overgrown vegetation is filed and the overgrowth then is mowed, the case is closed as compliance attained – regardless of whether an owner or a neighbor created the compliance. This is a circumstance that has affected the Ft. Duquesna property during its long history as a code offender, Langford said.  Neighbors with the best intentions have unwittingly ended a complaint about the property, bringing it into compliance by voluntarily mowing its overgrowth down, he added

Complaints about the home and its lot were reported in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, noted Langford , who inspected the property again this week. After a year of no complaints during 2010, the site clearly again is in violation, he added.

Posting a red notice of violation on the property Monday, Langford said that in view of the long history of repeated violations and current unacceptable conditions, he would seek an expedited hearing on the matter before Hillsborough’s Code Enforcement Board, aiming for a December session. He cautioned, though, that the Ft. Duquesna matter also competes for attention with a large number of violations related to foreclosure cases around the county coming before the board.

The board, upon hearing the violations case, can forward the matter to a magistrate. Several different penalties can be initiated, designed to encourage long term compliance by the owner or reach resolution through a final action by the county attorney’s office. Langford said the range of penalties include fines levied against the property owner of from $25 to $1,000 per day to filing a lien against the property ensuring compensation upon its sale for county clean-ups of the site or referring it for legal action brought by county attorneys on behalf of aggrieved citizens against the negligent owner. 

In the meantime, as the Ft. Duquesna violations work through the process, SCC residents are speaking up. Bruce Arnold, a former CA director who lives one street north of the Ft. Duquesna property, said this week he is filing a formal written complaint with the code enforcement section in support of efforts aimed at long-term resolution  Ron King, a newcomer and CA board candidate in the December election cycle, has pointed out that potential buyers avoid good home resales located on streets with badly kept properties and he was one of them. Plus, the existing CA board opens community enhancement discussions this week with the first of three town hall meetings on a proposed commons areas building project designed to increase community aesthetics and functionality for anticipated buyers of resale homes as the last new houses are constructed.

All of them eye problem properties like the Ft. Duquesna location, recognizing that such obstacles to a desirable community in its second half century must be overcome.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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