By Laura Gottesdiener / Alternet
It’s payback time—literally. In Florida, hundreds of homeowner and neighborhood associations are foreclosing on banks that have failed to upkeep their repossessed properties, according to—of all things— a CNN Money report.
Florida is one of the states hardest hit by foreclosures, and there are nearly a half-million foreclosed houses now standing vacant and often slowly deteriorating. When a bank forecloses on a house, evicts the family and then repossesses the property, it also assumes responsibility for maintaining the home and yard and paying homeowner or condo association fees. Yet, some of the nation’s largest and richest banks have been unable or unwilling to upkeep their properties—prompting neighbors across Florida to declare enough is enough.
One Miami lawyer, Ben Solomon, has filed more than 1,000 liens against banks for failing to maintain their properties or pay their homeowner association fees. And when the recalcitrant banks don’t comply, Solomon slaps them with a foreclosure notice—131 thus far.
The push to hold banks accountable for their properties isn’t simply sweet justice against the world’s worst neighbors. Unmaintained properties create a host of problems for the surrounding neighborhood—problems that Bank of America, JP Morgan, U.S. Bank and other major Wall Street institutions are going to have to start dealing with if they want to continue foreclosing on and repossessing millions of homes across the United States. First off, an unmaintained property drives down the values of all surrounding homes, further putting neighboring homeowners at risk of default. (Multiple studies have shown that underwater homeowners are more likely to default than those who do not owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth.) Secondly, vacant, foreclosed homes increase crime, adding an extra expense for strapped city budgets and putting the whole neighborhood at risk. Third, in neighborhoods homeowners associations, other families end up paying extra for things like water and garbage pickup because major global corporations like Deutsche Bank can’t even pitch in their fair share of the community expense. Adding insult to injury, banks are far more likely to leave properties unmaintained in neighborhoods of color, according to a report by the National Fair Housing Alliance.
Solomon has already won tens of thousands of dollars from some of the nation’s largest banks—and even foreclosed on one mortgage servicing company, NovaStar, for failing to maintain its house in the Keys Gate Community Association in Homestead, Florida.