Foreclosure in desirable neighborhood frustrates residents

New laws helps homeowners living near vacant homes

COLUMBIA, Md. - The boarded up buildings that line Baltimore’s streets aren't just a City problem. Foreclosure bleeds into the suburbs.

Maryland has the third highest foreclosure rate in the country, according to RealtyTrac.

It's tough on homeowners, including the ones living next door to the blighted properties.

David Zinner has been struggling for some time with his neighbor’s home in Columbia, Md. He wants desperately for someone to move in. Instead, the property sits vacant and he doesn’t understand why.

“You can see where the siding is almost completely gone here,” Zinner said.

Zinner acts as the pseudo-manager of the foreclosed property next door. He's nagged the management company about cutting the grass, repairing the roof, replacing a collapsed deck, and fixing up odds and ends so the home doesn’t become an eyesore in the neighborhood.

“These things only got repaired because we kept hounding them and urging them to fix things up,” said Zinner.

He's incessant, because if he doesn't push them to keep up the place, he feels no one will.

“We care about how the neighborhood looks, we care what happens, but Bank of America doesn't seem to care,” said Zinner.

According to property records, Bank of America is the owner of the foreclosed home. They officially took over April of 2016 but Zinner said the house has been vacant since 2015.

And even now that the bank has taken over, the property still sits with minimal improvements and no for sale sign.

“The house has been sitting empty for two and a half years and we know that the average sale time in Columbia varies at most 80 days at the maximum, maybe as little as 40 days sometimes, so they are either totally incompetent or ignoring what's going on,” Zinner said.

Bank of America lists 19 foreclosed homes for sale on their site. The house in Columbia is not one of them.

Living in a good neighborhood and next to a property that's empty is a problem plaguing many others in the state.

“Especially communities where the houses are very close together,” said Maryland State Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford County). “You have torrential rain, the sum pump doesn't work, so the basement floods and ends up flooding into other people's home.” 

Delegate Lisanti heard it a lot in Harford County. She then looked into the foreclosure process and saw red tape that stretched days, months, and years.

“A foreclosure takes sometimes two to five years, so during that time no one knows who owns the property, so it may be abandoned and sit there without knowledge of a property owner, this bill changes that,” Lisanti said.

The governor signed a bill this year requiring the lien holder to add the foreclosed property owner's name to the statewide registry sooner, and it gives homeowners access to that information.

Knowing who's responsible for the property means holding the owner accountable for maintenance issues.

“Now local governments will have the tool to be able to work with you to bring these properties back up to code so that they aren't a blight on your neighborhood,” said Lisanti.

Another new law, effective this year, speeds up some of the processes so that blatantly abandoned homes see new life sooner.

“In the past, it could've taken six, nine months, several years to get to that process being able to petition for the foreclosure sale, so now what this law does is there are 11 tests it has to go through to prove that property is abandoned and vacant and if those tests are passed, then you won't have to go through the mediation process, the other processes that usually take so long for the property to be foreclosed,” said Jim Hyatt, a broker with Exit Results Realty.

The laws don't solve all of Zinner's problems, he's still waiting to see a moving truck. However, they give him an outlet to keep the home next door from falling into complete disrepair.

“We don't understand why they're just not moving on it,” said Zinner.

ABC2 reached out to Bank of America about the delay in selling the Columbia property. A spokesperson with the company said they've been busy making extensive repairs and they're now working on rehabbing the inside of the house.

They expect to turn over the property to Housing and Urban Development for marketing in the near future.
 

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