Thursday, December 22, 2011

City Ordinances Hold Mortgagees Responsible For Foreclosed Vacant Properties

Although the number of foreclosures have dropped in the Chicago area and nationally, many homes still sit vacant.  Our Oak Park foreclosure defense attorneys know that vacant properties, especially if not properly cared for, can cause a host of problems for Chicagoland residents.  Abandoned homes typically affect the value of the houses of neighbors, making it extremely hard to sell in an already challenged housing market.

The growing number of abandoned and dilapidated properties has made many Illinois cities eager to enter into agreements that will require owners of vacant buildings to take responsibility for them.  According to the Chicago Tribune, as of September 2010, there were 1,900 vacant properties within the city of Chicago alone where foreclosure proceedings had been launched by mortgage servicers but were never completed, which left the properties in limbo and likely not secured or maintained.  Approximately 10% of residential buildings in Cook County are vacant.

Last week, the Cook County Board passed a vacant building ordinance that is similar to the one the city of Chicago previously adopted.  The Chicago Tribune reports that the county’s measure, which passed without opposition, requires a property’s mortgagee to pay $250 to list buildings as vacant on a countywide registry.  The ordinance will take effect in mid-February and will apply to all areas of unincorporated Cook County.

The Cook County ordinance mandates that owners of vacant properties register those parcels and take responsibility for them within 30 days of the buildings becoming vacant or after assuming ownership of the buildings.  Mortgagees must do so within 60 days after a mortgage default.  Thus, mortgagees are now responsible for the maintenance of vacant properties within a reasonable timeframe so the properties do not fall into such drastic disrepair.  The ordinance will not apply to buildings that are vacant but being cared for, under construction or rehab, the subject of a probate action, or in an ownership dispute.

According to Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, 75% of the mortgages in Cook County are owned by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).  Gainer claims this allows the owners of vacant properties to ignore their responsibilities to their own assets and to Illinois communities.

Despite apparent support for such laws, Chicago’s ordinance, which is similar to Cook County’s but requires a $500 property registration fee, has become the subject of a federal lawsuit.  The FHFA, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the ordinance infringes on its role as the sole regulator and supervisor of Fannie and Freddie.  The two big-time mortgage financiers own about 258,000 mortgages within the city of Chicago.  In recent years, the lending giants have been accused of failing to detect and prevent fraudulent mortgage foreclosure practices

The federal lawsuit seeks to exempt all of the FHFA’s mortgages from the ordinance.  Chicago officials say they plan to vigorously defend the ordinance in court.

The Chicago foreclosure lawyers at the Emerson Firm can help you decide if foreclosure is the best possible option for you and your family.  Helping you comply with the law and protecting your assets is our top priority.  Illinois foreclosure law is changing all the time, so it is essential for Oak Park residents to be aware of the resources available to them.  Please consider contacting the Emerson Law Firm for a foreclosure defense consultation today. 

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