Proposed ordinance gives Miami's code enforcement department 'tools' to deal with distraught properties
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Miami's code enforcement department has crafted a new ordinance to give more authority to a department that needs it, city officials say.
The proposal, to be heard at today's (9/25) commission meeting, is to expedite addressing code enforcement issues of foreclosed properties.
With some homeowners forced to abandon their property because they cannot pay their mortgages, code enforcement officers are often left to tend and secure the property with no owner to reimburse them.
As the foreclosure epidemic continues to hit hard at Miami-Dade County, the number of homes in the foreclosure process keeps growing with more than 4,800 reported foreclosures this year, according to county data.
It's a problem Commissioner Angel Gonzalez said he has warned the city about and thinks could get worse. "We better prepare for that, I have been telling you for the past four months," he said.
The proposed measure deals with vacant, blighted, unsecured or abandoned properties in the city. "This ordinance gives us the tools to deal with the problem," said Code Enforcement Director Mariano Loret de Mola.
If the ordinance gets approval, code enforcement would have more authority to secure a property and keep squatters from entering, he said.
Often, people use the abandoned dwellings for criminal activities and over time they can become an eyesore to the neighborhood, he said, adding the measure would also give police more authority to go on the property and arrest trespassers.
When a vacant property is left unsecured or unkempt, both the county and city issue citations giving property owners a time period to rectify the issues. Should the property remain in violation, the governments levy fines. Unpaid fines could mean liens on the property.
When foreclosed homes are left open and their yards overgrown, the city has to reach out to banks and mortgage companies to resolve the violations.
Mr. Loret de Mola said banks can make enforcement officials' jobs harder ecause in many cases it takes time to find the officer within a bank responsible for addressing code enforcement compliance issues.
Under the proposed legislation, code enforcement would set up a registration system for foreclosed properties, with a set window of time to register the property with the city.
Properties owned by banks and mortgage companies would require a contact person to be provided as the liaison to help resolve any code enforcement problems, he said.
Mr. Loret de Mola hopes the registration system, which would require paying a registration fee, helps establish communication with the banks and make the city's work faster and smoother.
The first-year registration fee is to be $250, the second year it increases to $375 and all subsequent years $500 annually. Those who fail to register a property would pay a $1,000 fine, the ordinance says.
The collected fees are to help pay to identify and rehabilitate the structures.
He said areas of concern for code enforcement continue to be properties along the Miami River and in Little Haiti, Allapattah and Little Havana. "We want to improve the quality of life for those residents," Mr. Loret de Mola said.
The aim is to provide better security for these temporarily abandoned residences, as derelict properties can often threaten the safety of a neighborhood and affect an area's quality of life, he said.
Another big issue for Miami's code enforcement is the need to move forward with the demolition of properties deemed unsafe as the process is slow, city officials say.
Hector Lima, director of the building department, said the city take about 120 cases to the board each year but deals with about 300 cases.
To seek demolition of a property, the city has to present a case in front of a county-run demolition board for which it has to pay fees of $600 or more. Then once the demolition gets approved it has to cover the costs of knocking down the building, a process that takes six months or more, Mr. Loret de Mola said.
These costs are to be paid by the property owner, but often the city ends up covering the tab without getting reimbursement or payment for citations made on the property.
Last year, he said the city helped carry out 39 building demolitions including he Lerner building, a derelict storefront in downtown Miami.
Along the Miami River alone, close to 10 properties were identified as unsafe structures and were issued notices of violation this year, he said. The next step is to take the cases in front of the demolition board.
Commissioner Chairman Joe Sanchez said properties need to be kept in good conditions to avoid having more structures depreciate over time and hopes the ordinance can achieve this. Better tools need to be put in place to make this happen."