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When a citation is issued against the owner of a property in foreclosure in York City, the owner's identity is often in question, Assistant Solicitor Donald Hoyt said at the City Council committee meeting Wednesday night.

Hoyt, who acts on behalf of the city in court, was glad to hear a bill to establish a registry of foreclosed properties in the city introduced at the meeting.

"I think it's a valuable step," he said.

The proposed ordinance, which was modeled on a piece of legislation that has given Harrisburg "some measure of success," according to Hoyt, is intended to help the city deal with neglected mortgage foreclosure properties that hurt property values, create nuisances and "lead to a general decrease in neighborhood and community aesthetics," in the language of the bill.

The ordinance would allow the city to track ownership of properties that have been foreclosed. Many owners of foreclosed properties are not based in or near York, said Steve Buffington, deputy director of permits, planning and zoning. The ordinance would give the city "one more tool" to hold mortgage companies and banks responsible for the maintenance of these properties, he said.

Interim Director of Economic and Community Development Shilvosky Buffaloe agreed.

"This gives us the opportunity to have something to hold over the mortgage companies' heads, if you will," he said at the meeting.

In addition to requiring lenders to inspect newly foreclosed properties, determine whether or not they are occupied and register with the office of permits, planning and zoning, the proposed ordinance would require them to properly maintain and secure properties. Lenders who neglect to register, maintain or secure properties would be subject to fines.

John LeCates, a Realtor and former president of the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties, said he has worked with investors to buy houses in foreclosure from the federal government and from banks.

LeCates said that, in his experience, banks usually take care of properties they repossess. But sometimes, after homeowners stop paying their mortgage and before the sheriff's sale, a property lies vacant for months. Vacant properties are often broken into: "People go in and steal copper," he said.

Having a registry would benefit Realtors, he said, "because you know who to contact to purchase the property — especially if no one lives there."

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.

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