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County wants registry for foreclosed properties

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Sheriff says abandoned homes attract crime, hurt property values

By AJ Vicens

Jeffco Sheriff Ted Mink says the county should have the authority to require banks and other property owners to maintain foreclosed and abandoned properties to help head off crime and preserve property values.

"With all these foreclosures out there, there's a lot of additional criminal activity," Mink told the county commissioners Sept. 15. "They attract crime, and the neighbors get upset. Some cities have authority to force banks to do something with the properties; counties don't."

Mink believes Jeffco should seek legislation giving counties the authority to enact an ordinance to require banks and others to register foreclosed and abandoned properties and to maintain their appearance. The registry would also give deputies a point of contact if they respond to crime at a foreclosed property.

A search of the 80123, 80127 and 80128 ZIP codes on the Jefferson County public trustee's website shows hundreds of homes in some stage of the foreclosure process. Not all those homes are unoccupied or neglected, but the ones that are give the sheriff's office headaches.

"These homes are often used for marijuana grows and have their appliances stolen," Mink said, noting that one home had its hot tub stolen and the thieves left wiring exposed, causing a small fire. In other cases, Mink says, foreclosed homes are used by juveniles for illicit purposes.

Mink said his office has had at least 45 calls related to foreclosed properties since July 2008.

Sheriff's Lt. Ron Leonard, one of the architects of Mink’s plan, said the city of Indio, Calif., has a similar registry. In Indio, properties must be registered within 10 days of a foreclosure. The program requires the bank or the owner to maintain the homes to community standards. Indio's program has cleared legal challenges in court, Leonard said.

Leonard points to a similar program in Aurora as a successful model. Aurora enacted its program in April 2009 and has already registered 1,500 properties. He presented a list of hundreds of cities and counties across the country that have similar programs.

"In 2010 and 2011, we'll be seeing a lot more foreclosures," Leonard told the commissioners.

There were 3,669 foreclosures in Jeffco in 2008, and 2,680 through August 2009, according to the public trustee. The trustee's office is projecting more than 4,000 by the end of 2009, a 5 percent increase over 2008.

Leonard said it doesn't take long for a foreclosed home to fall into disrepair and become an eyesore.

"Typically, after seven days of people seeing that, they grow accustomed to it," Leonard said. "The neighborhood ends up being penalized because of the foreclosure."

Assistant County Attorney Eric Butler told the commissioners that Colorado counties don't currently have the authority to establish a registry like the one Mink and Leonard described. Commissioner Kevin McCasky asked him to draft legislation for the 2010 session of the General Assembly, which begins in January.

Mike Chadwick, a Jeffco zoning administrator, said his biggest concern is the "nuts and bolts" of how the registry would actually work; Chadwick and his staff would be the ones charged with enforcing the rules.

But Chadwick supports the plan, saying he often deals with frustrated residents complaining about foreclosed or abandoned homes.

"We spend a lot of staff time getting nowhere on this stuff," Chadwick said.

Mink said the registry would let him and his deputies help frustrated residents.

"These regulations would allow us, when we respond, to have a contact person for these things," Mink said, "instead of just spinning our wheels and trying to find someone to take ownership of this problem."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.