I-Team: Bank-owned properties cost Tampa Bay cities millions

TAMPA - The economy continues to improve, but that's not solving a major problem caused by deteriorating bank-owned properties in Tampa Bay.

The I-Team has discovered the issue is driving down home values and costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Across the street from Orlando Floran's American dream sits his nightmare.

"We've got rats, we've got fungus laying around," he said, pointing to a driveway across the street from his home on Citrus Circle, just off Busch Blvd.

The driveway is a dumping ground, filled with broken glass, soggy couches and sharp metal objects.

"Little kids could pick up anything. They can catch any disease in here. You can smell it coming out of here.  And when the sun beats, you can smell it all the way from my house," Floran said.

Shoes are strung over power lines, signifying that the drug dealing business is looming behind the broken-down doors of the abandoned apartment building.

"People stay here in this unit. How could I approach somebody here by myself?" said Floran, a grandfather.

The squalor is not confined to Floran's street.

A couple of blocks away, several duplexes sat vacant.

Their doors and windows were broken out, while empty liquor bottles littered the yards.

In another home, a Bible sits beside a filthy mattress neighbors tell us homeless teens have slept on for months.

Graffiti covers walls and empty packages of synthetic marijuana cover a coffee table abandoned by owners kicked out years ago.

"We went through the city of Tampa repeatedly, sat down with code enforcement, diligently spent many house trying to get this handled to no avail," said Mike Hudson, who owns a business plaza beside Floran's home.

The problem is not being caused by slumlords.

"This is the bank's fault," said Floran.

Multi-billion dollar banks tower over some of Tampa's priciest real estate.

While top executives earn multi-million dollar bonuses, the buildings they own continue to deteriorate.

"We have over 6,000 properties registered within the city of Tampa, and those are just the ones we know about," said City of Tampa Neighborhoods Director Jake Slater.

Slater oversees 26 code enforcement inspectors assigned to keep track of bank-owned properties, in addition to enforcing city maintenance codes.

This year, the department's budget will include $400,000 for clean-up, mowing and demolition.

And the city still has to hire private contractors to clean up the bigger messes.

So, how much is this costing taxpayers?

So far, in Tampa, there are 2,000 unpaid abatement liens totaling $2.5 Million.

That's money the city already spent for clean-up and never got back.

In St. Petersburg, 2,800 homes have been added to a new foreclosure registry out of an estimated 7,800 eligible properties.

City officials are still trying to tally the exact cost under the new system.

In Clearwater, the city has 457 unpaid liens totaling $198,900.

Getting money back is harder than most city officials ever imagined.

"We've been dealing with Ohio, California, Texas, New York. There is not someone in Tampa sitting behind a desk," Slater said.

Back on Floran's street in Tampa, the city cleaned up after the I-Team got involved.

The cost to taxpayers was around $1,000.

"If it wasn't for you guys, it wouldn't have got done. I waited two years to get this done," Floran said.

That's good news for Floran, but something Tampa taxpayers don't want to pay for 5,999 more times.

"I don't have an easy answer for this one, I don't," said Slater, when asked how best to handle the problem.    

Slater says that certain communities have passed ordinances making cities the primary lien holder's in front of banks, which allows them to collect money owed to cities first when a property is sold.

A pilot program has been launched in West Palm Beach.

Other cities are now waiting to see if those programs are challenged in court.

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