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November 27, 2015

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Neighbors seek answers in dealing with vacant homes


Steve Marcus

Environmental specialist Robert Cole examines a pool at a foreclosed home in 2010.

As foreclosures and vacant homes sweep across the valley, they bring a rash of problems residents are becoming more and more familiar with.

Unkempt lawns, green pools and squatters are becoming common problems, and on Wednesday night, residents in Henderson gathered to learn how they can combat these issues.

The city’s Neighborhood Services Department hosted a community meeting where residents could ask utility officials, code enforcement officers, police officials and a lawyer about maintaining vacant homes and how to get banks or delinquent homeowners to pay their fair share for the work.

The meeting was targeted at residents in homeowners associations, which account for about 70 percent of all Henderson homes, and was attended mostly by HOA board members and community managers.

Questions ranged from whether the city will turn on water service to keep yards green at vacant homes — yes, if the HOA pays for it — to how to handle a squatter living next door.

While the experts agreed homeowners association have the right to perform maintenance on vacant homes, getting the responsible party to pay for that work can be difficult.

Homeowners who move out of a house may not realize they’re still responsible for their dues, and banks that have taken over foreclosed homes often delay paying the costs associated with upkeep, attorney John Leach said.

Often the costs fall to other dues-paying homeowners in the community, but the associations do have rights when charging for these bills, Leach said.

“Banks need to be held accountable,” he said. “They are responsible from the day the gavel goes down and they purchase the home at a foreclosure sale. From that day forward, the bank has a duty to mitigate the appearance of that lot and pay assessments.”

Les Ratliff owns a home in the Mountainside community in Henderson, and although the neighborhood hasn’t been as hard hit by foreclosures as others, he said, it still sees many of the problems discussed at the meeting.

He said property owners need to be held accountable when a house becomes run down.

“I understand it’s a tough economy, but someone has to be responsible,” said Ratliff, who sits on the community’s board. “We can’t afford to saddle the rest of the community with that burden.”

Henderson Neighborhood Relations Manager Barbara Geach said her office gets lots of calls from homeowners associations asking what their rights and responsibilities are when it comes to vacant homes.

“So we got a panel of experts to answer them,” Geach said.

The information from Wednesday’s meetings will be sent out by mail to homeowners associations and posted online at the Neighborhood Services Department’s website.

Anyone with other questions can call Neighborhood Services at 267-2000.

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