Over the objections of community activists, a Chicago City Council committee on Monday signed off on a watered-down proposal to hold banks accountable for vacant property on which they hold mortgages.
The measure, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would amend an existing ordinance aldermen unanimously passed in July. At the time, the measure was heralded as a way to hold banks accountable for the vacant properties that are dragging down some neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.
That ordinance, which city lawyers said might not have withstood a court challenge, would have treated banks as owners of vacant homes, even before foreclosure.
The new proposal instead simply would require banks start maintaining vacant properties within 60 days of default on a mortgage. The required maintenance would include boarding up buildings to keep squatters out, mowing the grass and shoveling the snow.
Signs also would have to be posted with the phone number of those responsible for the properties. Violations could lead to fines of up to $1,000 a day.
“It’s something they never had to do before,” said Judith Fryland, a city attorney who handles vacant property cases. “They’re the ones, I believe, who certainly have to step up to the plate once the owner is gone. . . . They have to take control of what’s vacant, instead of the city chasing them around.”
Some, but not all, major banks have signed off on the new proposal and have agreed to work with the city to get state legislation passed that would bring uniformity to the foreclosure process with the aim of speeding it up.
Ernie Lukasik of the Northwest Side Housing Center, a non-profit group that helps homeowners mediate foreclosure cases, noted that Emanuel praised the current ordinance after it passed in late July.
“It amazes me that 60 days later, we’re looking at an amendment to weaken it,” Lukasik said, saying the new measure “would gut some of the most important provisions in this ordinance. It jeopardizes our children, our families, our first responders, our businesses and anyone — anyone — trying to make Chicago a home.”