So I came across an interesting article, the headline, and in fact the article itself, was very matter of fact. The headline read “Code violators owe Estero more than $2M in fines. The Village Council is asking for tougher enforcement.”

The Village of Estero FL, has approximately 19,000 people. $2,000,000+ in outstanding fines is a significant number for a community this size (any community really), but as I looked into this further, I believe it underscores several greater issues. Fixable issues!

Some quotes from the recently passed resolution referenced and linked in the article.

“Code enforcement liens are not super-priority liens co-equal with taxes, but are instead inferior to existing liens of record.” So that bears the question, if a municipality is actively taking the approach of fining for code violations, how many times were liens on additional properties, extinguished at sheriff sale, where the bank (mortgage is the priority lien) acquires the property? What was the cost (time & effort) for the village that was never recouped?

In a case where the homeowner, as the resolution states “have abandoned their properties or are so underwater to other lienholders that additional liens alone will not suffice” Were there open lines of communication between the bank and the village, or did municipality struggle to identify the lienholder or get no response from whoever they believed to be the lienholder, like numerous other communities? This is fixable.

Many municipalities across the country are looking to make these liens co-equal with taxes. That would be one solution.

Here are two more quotes “Excessively high lien amounts that exceed the market value of a parcel will never be paid in full.” “Similarly, as the recent financial crisis revealed, lenders may also be unwilling to foreclose in order to avoid inheriting a troubled property and the hard costs of remediation.”

The article itself discusses two properties (Sherrill Lane and Mockingbird Lane) where the fines exceeded the appraised value of the properties!

In a vacuum, these policies are warranted and have merit, but there are other factors that need to be incorporated.

Is there a mortgage? Who is the lienholder? Is there active litigation regarding the property? Is the homeowner in bankruptcy? Is it an investment property with no mortgage? Is it in probate? What is the neighborhood condition? These are all factors that can determine what action a homeowner or any interested party will take or will not take regarding the upkeep of the property.

It seems what we have here, is a very reactive approach. Fine, mitigate and hope to recoup as much as possible – rinse and repeat.

This is not meant as a reproach to Estero. Their issues along with those of Tulsa OK, seem miniscule, compared to another recent article. As the Estero article says, the village has one code officer, I have no doubt he/she has more than their hands full. It is also clear that this is a prime focus of the village leadership, for which they should be commended.

It’s another example of the “need to get off the hamster wheel”. I have encountered many exact scenarios over the past 17 years.

My goal is to use that experience and passion to assist communities like Estero to prosper.