New rules city councilors approved this week require financial institutions that own foreclosed properties in Rio Rancho to keep them spiffy and secure.
City leaders say the new ordinance is aimed at keeping hundreds of foreclosed homes scattered throughout the city from becoming neglected and prey to vandals, graffiti artists and rodents.
It requires banks or other institutions that hold mortgages on vacant properties to:
• Register them with the city;
• Maintain the landscaping, remove weeds, dead vegetation and trash;
• Keep the property secure from intruders.
Vacant houses can attract illegal activities such as methamphetamine production, rapes and drug deals, said Councilor Michael Williams, a former law enforcement officer. Neighbors can be concerned that they drag down home values, he said.
Councilors voted 5-1 to approve the ordinance.
Councilor Tim Crum, who cast the no vote, tried unsuccessfully to garner support for redrafting the ordinance so that the requirements would only be triggered by citizen complaints.
Crum was also the only councilor to vote against a separate resolution that set the registration fee at $50.
“I see fees getting out of hand,” Crum said.
That view was echoed by nine Rio Rancho residents who spoke against the resolution. One after another, they stood and spent their allotted three-minutes of podium time reciting the numerous fees the city charges for things like permits, inspections and licenses.
That led City Manager James Jimenez to point out that the registration fee applies only to specific mortgage-holders and was not a tax on the general public.
Williams said the ordinance was needed so the city could protect neighborhoods from deteriorating.
“We need this to maintain the aesthetics of the city. It’s part of doing business,” Williams said. “Every facet of government costs money.”
A briefing memo provided to councilors said Rio Rancho currently has more than 600 foreclosed homes.
One highly visible property the new rules won’t affect is a cluster of unfinished multifamily dwellings at Unser and Abrazo.
U.S. Bank, formerly First Community Bank, has been trying through legal action for more than two years to foreclose on the properties to recoup about $10 million in loans, fees and interest owed by developer Kitts Development of Rio Rancho.
Kitts Development filed for bankruptcy protection in September, the day before a scheduled foreclosure sale. The bankruptcy stalled the foreclosure procedure, and Kitts’ attorney William Davis told the Journal recently that the developer is still trying to secure financing to complete the dwellings.
City spokesman Peter Wells said the new ordinance is aimed at “completed” residences. He said the developer Kitts is still responsible for maintaining the property.