EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

October 27, 2013

'Zombie' homes sit in limbo in Florida and nationally

(Continued)

Both nationwide and statewide, about 1 in 5 homes moving through the foreclosure pipeline are zombies, he added.

It takes the state an average of about 900 days to clear a foreclosure in Florida, the data firm says -- though HR 87, nicknamed the “foreclosure fast track bill,” passed by the Florida Legislature this spring, aims to speed up the process.

Though not as big a problem as they were during the height of the foreclosure crisis, abandoned zombie homes are still a problem for the community at large, making them a problem for government and law enforcement.

Lee County commissioners passed an ordinance Sept. 24 that will make banks register vacant, distressed homes, so they will not neglect them and allow them to become eyesores.

The ordinance also requires banks to: Name a local property manager and to have the manager’s contact information posted on a sign on the property; inspect the home every 60 days; keep the property free from graffiti, debris and other junk, ranging from abandoned cars to throwaway fliers; maintain landscaping and pools; and secure windows, doors and gates.

The new rule will become effective Jan. 1. Violators will be subject to fines determined by a judge or the county administrative code. If the bank fails to comply, the county can take the necessary corrective action and record a lien against the property.

Homes that sit vacant for long periods are a magnet for vandals and thieves, who steal everything from air conditioning units to copper piping, said Sgt. Mark Williamson of the criminal investigations unit of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Some also attract scammers, particularly in isolated, heavily landscaped areas with big lots.

“They’ll break in, change the locks, and rent the home to an unsuspecting victim,” he said.

That’s exactly what happened to the Sparkers, who went back to their vacated Golden Gate Estates home in April 2012 to retrieve some curtains and discovered a woman and her three young sons had moved into it.

“We heard music playing -- it was quite a shock,” said Steven Sparker, 58, a prototype tool and die maker.

“I wish the bank would take it back,” he said.

Reach Naples Daily News writer June Fletcher at june.fletcher@naplesnews.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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