San Jose steps up to fight blight

March 10, 2009 3:21:56 PM PDT
Faced with thousands of bank-owned homes within the city limits, San Jose's code enforcement team is becoming more vigilant in its search for neglected foreclosure properties causing blight in neighborhoods, the city's top code enforcement official said Tuesday.

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"We're not going to have any tolerance for lenders," said city code enforcement official Michael Hannon. "If you own property in San Jose, I expect you to be proactive in managing your property. It's not the city's responsibility."

Properties in violation of the city's Neglected Vacant House and Community Preservation Ordinance face fines of $250, $500 or $1,000 per violation.

The city typically investigates property neglect in response to resident complaints. However this week Hannon instructed his inspectors to begin monitoring their territories proactively for properties showing signs of blight, including overgrown weeds, graffiti or trash.

He is also encouraging residents to file an anonymous complaint with his office, even if a property is only beginning to look unkempt. The city can put an address on its list of properties to watch, Hannon said, or send a notice to the owner that they may face a fine unless conditions improve.

Residents should report signs of blight to the code enforcement department at (408) 277-4528, or at www.sanjoseca.gov/codeenforcement.

Hannon said San Jose homeowners tend to be tolerant until a property becomes overtaken by weeds and marred with graffiti. He said residents should call his office "early and often" about troubled properties.

The problem of bank-owned properties becoming a neighborhood eyesore has sprouted in recent months as a byproduct of the nation's mortgage crisis. Hannon said more than 4,000 foreclosure properties exist in San Jose.

"As we see an increase in the number of properties, I need to be creative about how we as a city are going to respond," he said.

He is considering sending out investigators specifically to monitor bank-owned addresses, or having officers dedicated solely to this issue.

Hannon said his efforts are not an attempt to generate revenue, but rather a protection against further eroding property values in neighborhoods with foreclosure properties.

"When you're a lender and you don't have a commitment to the neighborhood, I think the level of scrutiny needs to be higher," he said.

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