Nancy Molnar

CANTON: City Council has moved to hold banks and other parties responsible for the condition of foreclosed properties.

Members unanimously passed legislation Monday requiring registration and the posting of a $10,000 bond to guarantee the sites are maintained.

“The community really wanted this ordinance in place because of all the blighted properties in their neighborhoods,’’ said political activist Norma Mills, who is credited with suggesting the rules.

Her passion for the issue started developing when she canvassed door to door for Democratic candidates in 2010.

As she walked through affected neighborhoods, she said, “It even had that smell of decaying property. You had grass growing and bushes growing everywhere.”

Beyond houses with broken windows that had been stripped of their siding, she saw people left behind with “just a strong sense of hopelessness.”

One woman was surrounded by abandoned houses. Two of the sites caught fire, endangering her own life and property.

Mills’ interest in the problem deepened while she worked with the Fight for a Fair Economy, a project of the Service Employees International Union. When that program ended locally in November, she asked Councilman Kevin Fisher to introduce legislation the group had been backing to hold the finance industry accountable for the aftermath of the 2008 housing bust.

The rules were adopted from those passed in Springfield, Mass., said Mills, because they had the most teeth.

Mills said financial institutions’ abandonment of foreclosures is especially offensive in light of the federal bank bailout. City tax dollars that otherwise would support police, fire and road services are diverted to maintaining derelict properties, she said.

“So now our local tax dollar is again supporting the bank,” Mills said.

Under the new legislation, existing foreclosures must be registered with the Building Department’s code enforcement division within 60 days. New locations must be reported 30 days from the time of a loan default.

Annual registration costs $125.

Responsible parties, such as lenders and mortgage servicing companies, are required to maintain properties in the same condition as others within 300 feet, excluding those owned by lenders.

Each property must bear a sign showing contact information for the Building Department and the responsible private party. Owners located more than 30 miles away must hire a local property maintenance company.

Failure to report a property carries a $300 fine, which increases to $500 per day 10 days after notification of the need by the city’s chief building official.

In addition to fighting blight, councilman Fisher said the new legislation also might prod lenders to work out payment problems to keep owners in the homes.

“I know that this ordinance is only going to be as good as the enforcement,” Mills said.

Similar rules have been enacted in big cities such as Boston and suburban communities such as Brunswick in Medina County.

Nancy Molnar can be reached at nancymolnar2002@yahoo.com.