Capitol Connection: Battling Blight

September 17, 2014

I’m always eager to meet with constituents and hear firsthand what concerns them about everyday life here in Connecticut.

Some share questions with me about healthcare or education, some express their fears regarding jobs and the economy, and some share questions about their town and community that I’m happy to examine.

Recently, I was asked by a constituent about what happens when a property is foreclosed and a national bank takes over. He explained that in his community a home that foreclosed had become blighted. However, he wasn’t sure if the town had any right to demand clean up by the bank.

So, can towns cite a state or federally chartered bank for blight on a foreclosed property? The answer to that question is yes – as long as the bank has the title.

Foreclosure is a long and complex process that often takes many years. If a building is actually foreclosed, a court has to transfer the title to the bank. Therefore, once the bank holds title, they are liable to the town for blight ordinances and fines.

But there is a catch. Your town must have a blight ordinance. In Connecticut, the state does not have specific laws that dictate town rules regarding blight. It’s up to each municipality to establish its own policies.

State law allows towns to adopt and enforce blight ordinances, fine owners for violating ordinances, impose liens and levy special assessments to recover unpaid fines and remediation costs. But, it is up to individual municipalities to establish these rules.

For towns that do have blight ordinances, there are also challenges in addressing blight. For example, sometimes it’s very difficult to figure out who owns the title. State statute requires that anyone who commences a foreclosure on a residential property must register the property with the town clerk. So, town clerks should know exactly who owns every home in town. Unfortunately, there are complexities nationwide. It can be hard to tell who legally owns property versus who controls it based on the way many loans are structured. It also can be hard to track down individual owners.

At the Capitol, lawmakers often discuss addressing blight in Connecticut. Last year, a task force to specifically examine this issue was formed in the hopes of finding ways to strengthen the ability of towns to address and end blight. Some recommendations offered to the task force included: adopting a statewide­ property maintenance code to simplify enforcement, adopting a separate housing court focused on blight and foreclosure to streamline enforcement, and streamlining the citation process by allowing municipalities to share resources and hearing officers – to name a few.
Blight is a sad and real problem in all towns across our state and will continue to be part of the conversation in Hartford.