Protecting our City … One Home at a Time

Posted by – Darren Darge, Code Enforcement Officer

Did you know that there is a team of City employees looking out for your neighborhood every day?

After the bubble burst in 2008, the economic downturn began to cause havoc with the housing market all over Michigan.   The City of Auburn Hills was not immune.  With foreclosures on the rise, a team was strategically assembled in March 2010 to serve and protect our neighborhoods.

The group is called the Foreclosure Task Force and its efforts have been very successful.  It’s led by the Community Development Department and is primarily assisted in the field by the Police Department and Department of Public Services; although every City Department has been involved with the project in one way or another.

Our experience has shown that as homes are left vacant after a foreclosure, physical deterioration starts.  If not monitored, these unattended properties will not get maintained creating multiple blight issues for our neighborhoods.  Overwhelmed banks are often very slow to respond, or don’t even respond for months at a time, to the issues with the vacant homes – so we proactively act.

How does it work?  Well, the foreclosed properties are initially found via research of weekly Oakland County Sales Reports by the Community Development Department.  When a bank files a legal foreclosure, it’s filed as a “Sheriff Deed” document.  Once the legal Sheriff Deed is filed, the current owner has 6 months to redeem the property from the filing date.  This redemption period has been known to vary in time due to the fact that each foreclosure may have different circumstances.  The bank has no control over the property in that “redemption” timeframe, unless the property has been listed as abandoned.  Because these properties are left in limbo, they often begin to decay.

The Sherriff Deed List is considered a watch list and the Community Development Department performs physical drive by inspections to verify if and when a property goes vacant.  Through detailed analysis of Oakland County Register of Deeds data, we continually monitor for redemption deeds and transfer of ownership documents, whether that is through an outright sale or a short sale.  Often these properties are transferred to a new owner or redeemed by the current owner before going vacant.

Interestingly, we have found that properties often go vacant over a weekend – or even overnight for that matter.  The City is given no warning by the bank, so we must be vigilant.  When the property goes vacant it is moved to a Vacant Watch List that gets shared with the Police Department.   The Police Department takes the monitoring to the next level by inspecting these properties on a daily basis to make sure there are no issues that could potentially cause crime to occur (e.g., tall grass, blight, broken windows, open doors, running water, etc.).  Property maintenance issues are immediately reported to the Community Development Department to be addressed.

The Foreclosure Task Force is in constant communication via an e-mail distribution list and direct phone conversations; so everyone knows when a new problem is found or when a home is sold and taken off the list.  We believe that the City of Auburn Hills has created a great working model that other Michigan communities can use to watch their foreclosed properties.

So, rest assured that our team will continue this monitoring program until the economy fully recovers.  We take pride in protecting our City … one home at a time.