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Town considers new database to fight blight

Riverhead Town is considering enacting a law that would require banks to register homes that are in foreclosure and maintain a database with contact information for their homeowners. The goal is to make it easier for town officials to get in touch with the owners should a property become blighted. 

A Florida company called ProCHAMPS pitched the idea to the Town Board at its work session on Wednesday morning.

The proposal would require the town to first pass a new law that creates the registry and that requires a registration fee for each home added to the registry, according to Kevin Sidella of ProCHAMP.

“We focus on properties that are at risk of becoming a source of neighborhood blight, such as foreclosures, vacant properties and rental properties,” Mr. Sidella said.

ProCHAMP would manage the database for the town, and they would be paid from a portion of the registration fees, he said, so the town would not have to pay anything.

“We don’t make money unless we’re getting properties registered,” he said, adding that Riverhead has a high concentration of foreclosed properties.
If a property becomes blighted, that responsible party for the property would be contacted.

Officials say it’s often difficult for code enforcement officials to know who the responsible person is on foreclosed homes because it often changes.

“It takes a while to figure out who’s in control of the property, which I think is the biggest benefit of your service,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “Deeds are transferred and properties are sold while the baks are still going through the foreclosure process and you don’t know who has control of the property.”

Mr. Sidella said foreclosed properties are often “traded back and forth like baseball cards” by banks.

ProCHAMP would keep an updated registry, and the new town law would include fines for property owners who don’t update their information. The Town of Babylon uses ProCHAMP and they charge fines of between $250 and $1,000, or 15 days in jail, for companies that violate the law, with penalties increasing for subsequent violations. Babylon also has a $200 twice-per-year registration fee.

Mr. Sidella said ProCHAMP only keeps $100 of each registration and doesn’t recommend that the fee be more than $500.Mr. Sidella said they can also register properties that are owned by real estate companies, although if the real estate company rented out a foreclosed property, they would no longer be on the registry.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the program would give code enforcement more time to go out and look at violations and address them.

“It think this would be extremely helpful for us,” said Town Code Enforcement officer Richard Downs.

Town Attorney Bob Koziekewicz recommended that the town issue a request for proposals to see if other companies offer a similar service, and Ms. Giglio said the proposal will go before the town code revision committee and the board would need to hold a public hearing before adopting it.

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