Kern County supervisors gave preliminary support Tuesday to a plan that would collect data on the ownership of vacant and foreclosed homes and use it to force owners to secure, maintain and repair that property.
Now county staff have two months to draft a county law and vet it with interested community groups before bringing it back to supervisors.
Engineering, Survey and Permit Services Director Chuck Lackey said he received direction from the board to explore a registration program and ways to speed up the process his department uses to clean up problem properties, and look "for ways to hold banks and property owners accountable for taking care of their property."
Supervisor Mike Maggard said he doesn't want to crack down on people struggling to stay in their homes or owners searching for a month or two for a new tenant for rental property.
"But that doesn't mean the county can't hold absentee landlords and lending institutions accountable for taking care of their property," he said.
Donna Carpenter, government affairs director for the Bakersfield Association of Realtors, spoke against the idea.
"The worst is over," she said in describing the foreclosure problems the board seeks to fix.
She said the market is rebounding and properties are being snapped up, so property owners are likely to list their property on the market rather than holding it vacant.
Carpenter argued that her members don't need to pay another fee when they can, as they have, work with government, law enforcement and other groups to identify problems and police solutions.
She said there are online services that provide listings of vacant properties and owners.
Lackey said he has access to all the public records that show ownership. But what he needs is a central clearing house that has detailed contact information for real lender staff who deal with individual properties.
"I'm looking for contact information that I can pick up the phone and get ahold of someone," Lackey said. "The corporate office (telephone) for some bank in New York doesn't help me."
Suzanne Lange, of Citizens for a New Oildale, said there are a number of foreclosed homes in her neighborhood.
"People are using them as drug houses and for prostitution," she said. They are a danger to children who live in the area.
Lange said she doesn't understand why owners aren't required to clean up the mess.
"As individuals we are required to maintain our properties. I don't understand why the banks don't have to be compliant," she said.
Right now, Lackey said, it can take up to nine months from the time a member of the public complains about a problem like Lange described to when county code enforcement officers fix it. Supervisors want to speed that up.