Abandoned Properties' Maintenance a Concern
Borough struggles with abandoned properties, and those stuck in foreclosure limbo.
Neighborhood eyesores around Watchung are vexing borough officials, who discussed possible actions at the Sept. 13 Borough Council meeting.
According to borough Construction Official Ed Bennett, some properties in process of foreclosure are not being maintained, creating public health concerns, but no one wants to take responsibility for them.
Bennett said the borough has ordinances which allow for the cleanup of properties, but in order to file a lien to collect payment for any cleanup or to notify a property owner of an issue, he needs a contact.
"The problem we're having is when there's an absentee owner...who's abandoned the property," Bennet said. "The problem is, they're not responding."
He added when a property advances into foreclosure, an agent is eventually named who can be made responsible for dealing with the maintenance of properties, but with the backlog of properties in foreclosure following the real estate collapse of 2008, it's sometimes years after a buyer has vacated a property before the bank steps into the void.
"We have one piece of property that I'm thinking about...where it's been six or more years that we've been working on with banks and getting nowhere," Bennett said.
He added he tries to work with property owners to resolve problems, regardless of how long it may take.
Bennett acknowledged another issue contacting the absentee owners stems from his evening work hours, so the borough will try to identify an employee available for an hour or two weekly to reach out to the owner or representatives of the properties.
But council members struggled with defining when to take action and when not to.
"An eyesore is in the beholder," Mayor Gerald Mobus said, noting some residents prefer a lawn that "au natural," while others can't afford to have their tended by professionals.
Councilman Stephen Pote said the borough needs some kind of criteria for determining "reasonable appearances" for properties, and suggested starting a monthly report of property complaints in the borough that also details what steps were taken to rectify issues.