ROCKLAND, Maine — A 1950-built ranch-style house on Rankin Street may be the poster child for the problem of abandoned houses in the city.
The owner of the house walked away from the property after the lender began foreclosure action, and now the structure is deteriorating rapidly. A tarpaulin placed over the roof more than a year ago is in tatters leaving the interior vulnerable to the weather.
The City Council will consider next month requiring the owners of abandoned houses to register with the city and to maintain them, so they don’t become an eyesore or even a danger.
“I want to make these owners uncomfortable for allowing these properties to crumble, especially when we have such a need for housing,” Councilor Valli Geiger said of the new ordinance she proposed.
The measure will be discussed at the council’s next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday and considered for preliminary approval at the council’s Oct. 12 meeting. If given initial approval, a public hearing and final vote would come in November.
Geiger said the proposal is modeled after an ordinance approved by Bangor in October 2013.
The ordinance in Bangor was sparked by concerns raised about abandoned and blighted properties in that city, which were dangerous, unsightly and brought down the value of residences around them, city officials said at the time.
Similarly, Geiger’s ordinance states, “The presence of vacant structures creates pockets of blight in the city, attracts criminal activity, depreciates the value of neighboring homes and commercial structures, discourages investment in and the rehabilitation and revitalization of neighboring buildings, and prevents neighborhood stabilization.”
A building would be considered vacant if it is unoccupied for 90 or more days. Once that happens, the owners would be required to obtain a vacant building registration permit and give city officials the name of a contact person who can be reached around the clock and who will be responsible for maintaining the property.
The owners also would be required to keep up the buildings so that windows and doors are in good condition to prevent people or animals from getting inside. The roof and remaining exterior parts of the buildings also would have to be kept in good condition to prevent water from getting inside and damaging the building.
Failure to register would result in a fine of between $100 and $2,500 per day. That fine, however, could only be imposed by a court after a hearing.
These abandoned homes pose a risk to firefighters and others, Geiger maintained, because if they are not properly secured someone could go inside and set fire to the building.
There are too many examples of homes being foreclosed on by banks and the structures are not maintained, she said. This ordinance is a common sense approach to deal with it, she said. She said her hope is that these requirements will encourage the owners, including banks, to sell them to someone who will repair and return them to livable conditions.
Rockland Code Enforcement Officer John Root said he is aware of at least a dozen homes that are abandoned in the community. Often, he said, a bank begins foreclosure action, the owner will leave and the bank does nothing to maintain it. In many of these instances, the bank does not even proceed with foreclosure so no one takes responsibility.
Root said he has spent countless hours trying to locate people responsible for properties to cut the grass, remove trash from the outside, or board up doors and windows that are broken. The city can do some property maintenance and bill the owners, but the only way to recoup the money is to go to court and try to collect any judgment.
The code officer said often times the property management companies are out-of-state and not responsive.
One of those properties is the ranch-style house that was built in 1950 at 269 Rankin St.
The property and building with five rooms totaling slightly more than 1,000 square feet was bought in 2007 by Christopher Paniccia of North Providence, Rhode Island, for $154,275. He took out a mortgage with Quicken Loans Inc. for $146,550.
A foreclosure action was filed in court by Bank of America in 2011, which had acquired the loan through a merger with another lender. Bank of America transferred the loan in 2015 to Nationstar Mortgage LLC of Lewisville, Texas. Nationstar filed a foreclosure action in April 2016. That matter remains pending in court.
A notice on the house refers anyone with concerns about the condition of the property to an out-of-state telephone number answered by Chase Property Management.
Elizabeth Seymour with Chase said Thursday that the company has no record of owning that property and believes the posting of their phone number was a mistake.
Geiger’s proposed ordinance is the latest in a series of proposals the councilor has offered as an advocate of the city taking steps to encourage more affordable housing. She sponsored legislation approved a few weeks ago that allows the city to consider the shortage of housing when it receives a bid for tax-acquired properties. She also has called for zoning changes to allow for smaller lots to be developed into housing.