Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he was caught aback by the Sun Sentinel’s investigation of how banks have established foreclosure practices that have left thousands of South Florida homes to decay, devastating neighborhoods.
“Maybe I don’t ask enough questions about it, and I will now,” he said in response to a series of articles the newspaper published this week regarding bad-neighbor banks.
The Sun Sentinel found that some banks evade responsibility for abandoned homes they hold title to, and banks and their agents act in ways that leave other vacant properties in legal limbo. The result is homes no one wants to live next to, much less buy.
They have algae-filled pools, knee-high grass, trash-strewn yards, broken windows, missing doors, peeling paint, mold, and uninvited tenants such as squatters, raccoons or rats.
Scott said his initial, gut-level reaction was that the problem was not so much the behavior of the banks but the poor condition of Florida’s economy. “The real solution is more jobs,” he said, repeating a common theme he has championed as the cure-all for most of Florida’s ills.
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When it comes to holding banks accountable for maintaining abandoned homes, Scott sounded reluctant to act. He said he feared that banks will not lend, or will raise the cost of lending, if faced with additional state regulations.
“We want them to lend, and we want the interest rates as low as possible,” he said.
Other states, such as New Jersey and New York, have adopted laws requiring banks to keep up the maintenance of vacant homes in the midst of foreclosure suits, before getting title. Banks can be unwilling to tend to homes they don’t own, for fear the owner has not truly abandoned the property.
Asked if a similar law could be passed in Florida, the governor said it could be done, but “somebody’s going to pay for it.” The banks, he said, likely will not take on more responsibility without foisting the cost onto consumers somewhere down the line.
Instead, Scott said, he favors expediting the foreclosure process so homes don’t sit empty for so long. A bill to do just that failed in the Senate this year among strong opposition from consumer rights groups who thought it did not have enough protections for homeowners.
The governor also said he would like for Florida to take the entire foreclosure process out of the hands of the courts and, instead, permit lenders to foreclose without a judge’s approval, as they do in California, Texas and some other states.
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