Holmdel Cracks Down, Fights Banks on Vacant Properties

October 20, 2017
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Code enforcers in Holmdel have a new ordinance for fighting banks that neglect the upkeep on vacant properties. The township had to foot the bill for the demolition of the house at this property at 177 Stillwell Road when the owner couldn’t be found.

By Jay Cook |

HOLMDEL – Holmdel officials are tired of banks neglecting abandoned properties throughout the town’s 18-plus square miles. With a new ordinance unanimously passed this week, the township now has a means to crack down on banks whose vacant properties have fallen into disrepair.

The new municipal law is derived from a 2014 state law providing municipalities with more power to address the issue of abandoned properties, said Holmdel township attorney Michael Collins, at an Oct. 10 township committee meeting.

Collins called Holmdel’s ordinance a “complex regulatory regime” which will form guidelines requiring banks to join a registry and name an in-state agent to serve as a point-of-contact. The ordinance will also allow Holmdel to implement a monetary fine structure which could be imposed if land is not properly cared for.

Holmdel Committeeman Eric Hinds, who had been pushing for the ordinance, said there are still about a dozen homes in Holmdel sitting vacant since the 2008 economic downturn.

“The banks are a joke and they’ve got to do a better job of weeding through this,” Hinds said. “We’ve equipped our code enforcement with the power to make things happen. We’ve given them a stick to go out there and fight with.”

Township administrator Donna Vieiro said Holmdel has had to budget $30,000 a year, for a number of years, so landscape clean-up companies could maintain the properties.

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She said Holmdel is one of a few Monmouth County towns to take this extra step. “A lot of the verbiage came from what Asbury Park is doing, and they’ve had (the law) in place for a while,” Vieiro added.

Per the ordinance, creditor companies who take control of abandoned homes must register the property with the township and name an in-state representative authorized to receive code violations or be privy to any court proceedings.

The initial registration fee is $500. After the first full year, the registration price triples to $1,500; after year two, it increases to $3,000; and for any subsequent year, the fee is $5,000 annually.

Contact information for the in-state representative will be posted on each property and that person will be responsible for keeping the interior and exterior of those homes up to code. If no representative is named, a $2,500 daily fine will be imposed after a 10-day period.

When a property is found out-of-code by township code enforcement, either from overgrown or neglected vegetation, an accumulation of trash and junk, or by statements from neighbors, stiff fines will be imposed. A $1,500 daily fine for each day of a violation will be dropped in a company’s lap 31 days after notice delivery. For more pressing or dangerous violations, there is an 11-day grace period before fines begin.

Vieiro said the township began cracking down on unkempt vacancies about four years ago, when there were about 20 different abandoned homes. She said it’s not limited to any specific section of town.

In one instance, she said the township levied a lien on a property because the owner could not be found. After three years of looking for the homeowner, the township demolished the house at 177 Stillwell Road in 2015. Vieiro said the township had to front the demolition costs.

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Hinds believes the ordinance will allow Holmdel to be one of the strictest enforcers in the county.

“It’s bad for the neighborhoods and it’s bad for the community,” he said, referring to vacant homes. “We want to quickly nip that in the bud and set a better precedent for the community.”

This article was first published in the Oct. 12-19, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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