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State seeks to regulate local foreclosure registries
Registries help governments track property owners
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Dealing with overgrown, neglected residential properties held by anonymous owners is becoming an old hat to Gary Kansky.

Gainesville's code enforcement officer has faced the effects of the nation's foreclosure crisis for at least three years.

And getting a forlorn property back in shape is not what he'd call a "fast-moving process." After people lose their homes and the bank takes over, it's often time-consuming to find someone to take on simple tasks such as mowing the grass.

"We've dealt with banks in California, Utah, Denver, Michigan," he said. "Now we're dealing with some in Texas. It usually takes more than one phone call. If need be, we send pictures."

A bill under consideration in the state legislature might cut down on the number of phone calls code enforcement officers have to make.

Last week, the Georgia Senate approved an amended version of a House bill that sets guidelines for local governments wanting to establish registries for foreclosed and vacant properties.

The bill doesn't require governments to create the registry, but does establish a model to use that would force a bank to notify them when it takes over properties.

"This is a real issue, not to the whole state, but to certain areas of the state," said Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, whose district includes many foreclosures.
"But this is a huge issue to homeowners."

A handful of Georgia cities and counties already have such registries. The bill under consideration would regulate how much governments can charge banks or other owners of vacant properties to sign up.

The House will have to take up the Senate's changes before sending the bill to the governor. A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal said he had not yet begun to consider the regulation.

The original legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes DeKalb County, which took in more than $550,000 in foreclosure fees in less than a year. The fees raised eyebrows among some who worried the registry could be used to raise revenue.

However, the bill does ensure that local governments are reimbursed for dealing with those properties, said Georgia Municipal Association spokeswoman Amy Henderson.

The GMA lobbies on behalf of Georgia's cities, and usually doesn't take kindly to state lawmakers meddling in its affairs. Last year, the group helped stall a version of the bill. But Henderson said GMA is happy with what lawmakers have come up with this time.

The bill caps the registration fee at $100; the maximum penalty for not registering would be $1,000.

"There's a cost of maintaining and inspecting properties," Henderson said. "The fee (to sign up for the registry) should cover the cost. It shouldn't be a moneymaker. It also shouldn't be a money loser. It shouldn't cost the city to maintain this list."

This year's bill faced serious opposition in the Senate last week, but passed after a two-hour debate.

Under the proposal, cities or counties with foreclosure registries would require owners to register properties or face a fine.

Supporters maintained that the legislature should do something to address the foreclosure crisis and a growing concern about neglected properties. Critics claimed the measure could infringe on private property rights without actually cracking down on absentee owners.

While the bill brings attention to how governments might deal with foreclosed and vacant properties, Henderson doesn't expect it will cause a flood of registries statewide.

When the bill first came up last year, Henderson said the GMA held a training session for its members on the registries.

"Even after that, there was not a huge rush of cities to set these up," she said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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