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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wallingford’s Clean and Lien makes a difference with vacant sites

As published in the Record Journal Saturday August 18, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
) 317-2235  

WALLINGFORD — The Health Department is reporting early success with its month-old Clean and Lien program.

The program uses a new $5,000 fund to address various maintenance issues at vacant homes that are in the foreclosure process. The town then puts a priority lien on the home to recoup those costs when the mortgage lender that is foreclosing takes full ownership.

During its first month, the fund has been used to clean up four vacant homes. The town came in and cut the grass at one home and performed pest control at another, and health issues at the other two homes were dealt with by the mortgage lenders themselves after they were informed of the lien program, according to Health Director Eloise Hazelwood.

“We’re very excited that it’s working,” Hazelwood said. “We’re more excited that the mortgage company has recognized that we have the ability now to take action and are taking action first.”
The Town Council approved a $5,000 allocation at its June 26 meeting to start the fund, which provides money for the Health Department to hire contractors to remove garbage, perform a one-time mowing and exterminate pests.

Hazelwood is hoping the program will help reduce public nuisances — smells, vermin and other issues coming from foreclosed property. Public nuisance complaints throughout Wallingford have been rising since the economic downturn began, according to the Health Department. In 2011, the department investigated 154 complaints, almost double that of 2006. Complaints logged were for both vacant and occupied properties. The Clean and Lien program deals only with vacant homes; there is other recourse for occupied homes.

Foreclosure rates are also up, according to the Town Clerk’s office, with 44 foreclosures in 2011 versus 25 in 2009. The impetus for the program came from Town Councilor Tom Laffin, a Republican, who had been approached by constituents about a vacant home in their neighborhood where they believed rats were breeding. Laffin said he was happy that the program has worked out so well so far, and credited Hazelwood with finding an elegant solution.

“It’s fulfilling,” Laffin said, that “a new program that was cheap is having this kind of positive impact on everybody.” According to Hazelwood, multiple calls to Bank of America, the mortgage lender on the property, yielded no help. But after she e-mailed the details of the program to customer service representatives, workers showed up at the property and performed pest control and general cleanup.

A Bank of America media relations representative issued a statement when asked about the property.

“We’re committed to maintain properties to neighborhood standards. We work with service providers to inspect and maintain more than one million properties each month,” the statement said. “When we learn that a property is not being maintained, we take action to remedy the situation.” The statement referred residents to report issues using its website.
Residents said they are happy that the bank sent a maintenance crew.

“I haven’t seen any more rats after that,” said Rick Petrillo, who lives down the street. “They probably did a pretty good job of it.”
Michele Gargiulo, who lives next door to the house, has been fighting the rat problem for a few years now. She’s seen hundreds of them and stopped using her garage because they had taken up residence there. She has paid $1,000 for an exterminator thus far, she said, and more on her own rat traps and poison.

Gargiulo said she’s happy that after years of calling, the bank finally came out with an exterminator. She said workers had shown up before, covering the home’s pool, which was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, she said. On the most recent visit, workers also drained the pool, she said.

She hopes the bank continues to monitor the house.

“I definitely hope that at some point they do continue to follow up on it and make sure this doesn’t get out of control,” she said. “If they miss a couple, they breed very fast.”