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City of Ft. Lauderdale Code Enforcement revives lien amnesty initiative

Fort Lauderdale property owners who have run afoul of the city’s code enforcement inspectors and owe money in unpaid liens may get some relief – at least for a while. A month ago, city staffers proposed a Code Enforcement Lien Amnesty Program, and last week the City Commission approved the measure unanimously.

The program allows homeowners with unpaid liens to pay only 15 percent of the total under certain conditions. Owe $100,000? You pay only $15,000. A whopping $85,000 is forgiven.

Conditions include a provision that homeowners must pay for any repairs and renovations that caused the liens, as well as any costs incurred by the city.
The Code Enforcement Lien Amnesty Program expires June 28.

The program “will provide the city with a mechanism to clear many old and cumbersome liens from the books,” City Manager Lee Feldman wrote in the original proposal. It will “stimulate the sale of many abandoned properties” and “allow homeowners suffering foreclosure to obtain clear title and renegotiate their mortgage.”

Fort Lauderdale’s 2004 effort in lien amnesty was only one model for the current offer, said city spokesman Chaz Adams. Staffers “reviewed numerous programs throughout the state.” A successful program in Tamarac gave back all but 10 percent, while Largo forgave 80 percent. Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County settled for 5 percent.

Fifteen percent, Adams said, is “significant enough to entice participation in the program while ensuring total recovery of all city costs.”

Reactions to the proposal vary.

“It’s a very generous offer,” said Marilyn Mammano, president of the Harbordale Civic Association and the Council of Fort Lauderdale Civic Associations. “Maybe it raises some revenue, maybe it doesn’t, but getting more properties into compliance is a worthy goal in itself.”

A problem the amnesty program addresses “is the biggest in the northwest,” Smith said. In neighborhoods like South Middle River and Middle River Terrace, “many of the houses are in foreclosure or are ‘underwater,’ carrying more debt than they’re worth. A lien is just another burden. A buyer has to pay off the mortgage, and then face maybe $30,000 in liens. Now the city’s telling him all he has to pay is $4,500. A buyer can fit that in.

“It puts a lot of troubled real estate back into play,” Smith said. “Fix it up. Live in it. That’s better than having it sit there empty and broken down.”

“The program can’t hurt,” said Chris Williams, a Realtor and member of the Coral Ridge Association’s board. “I suspect that a lot of houses are a shambles because the owners can’t afford repairs. Or just don’t care. Will 15 percent really move them? But this won’t hurt. It’s not negative. And it doesn’t cost the city anything.”

DON CRINKLAW Forum Publishing Group

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/broward/fort-lauderdale/fl-esb-lien-1115-20121115,0,4619513.story

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