Kern County forces banks to register foreclosures

Published 03/21 2014 04:28PM

Updated 03/24 2014 09:14AM

KERN COUNTY - Kern County is cracking down on banks that own abandoned homes, pushing them to clean up or approve the properties for demolition. The county's Development Services Agency is enforcing a new ordinance that requires all banks or lending institutions that even have partial ownership of a home, to register it with the county.

For the past two years, Chris Horan has lived across the street from an abandoned house.

"A lot of people coming and going, squatters living in it," said Horan. "I think it puts a little bit of a problem out there when you have unwelcome guests. I think a family would be a lot better off there."

Throughout Kern County there are thousands of abandoned properties. The problem is especially bad in eastern parts of the county such as Mojave and Taft. Neighbors said the houses attract squatters and criminals.

"Usually at night time, there's not enough sheriffs [deputies] to patrol the area so they have free reign around here," said Oildale renter Alex Lanzer. "It makes it frustrating when people get broken into around their cars, and you hear a lot of that around this neighborhood a lot."

Before the county can come into a neighborhood and either clean up or even demolish abandoned properties, they first have to find out who it belongs to, but code enforcement said it's not an easy task.

"As Code Compliance, we were having a hard time identifying who the responsible parties were," said Kern County Housing Rehabilitation Programs Supervisor Christy Fitzgerald. "The owners may have walked away, the lenders have not started foreclosure process, so they're just in stagnant."

Kern County approved an ordinance in January which forces all banking institutions to register the properties. Fitzgerald said many large banks have already turned in several properties.

"If a bank has a loan on a piece of property, then they are a responsible party," said Fitzgerald. "If an owner has walked away from a property, they are responsible if we can find them."

The registration allows code enforcement to fine the lenders to clean up, maintain, and secure all of their properties.

"We give the property owner, the lender, the opportunity to do it. If they don't do it, then we hire contractors to go and take care of the property and then in turn, we file a lien against the property for the work that we have done."

Lenders can register their properties on the county's website. If they don't, the fines start at a thousand dollars.

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