Unpaid liens add up, hurting city’s budget

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Posted: Friday, December 27, 2013 12:00 am

Bellevue residents are out at least $150,000 since 1999 because of unpaid liens, and there is probably significantly more to come.

Sabrina Ohnmacht, deputy city clerk, said the city has placed property liens totaling $150,527.99 since 1999, and that total is probably greater because those debts accrue interest at the rate of 14 percent a year.

The Bellevue City Council Dec. 9, acting as the Board of Equalization, added $26,070 to the total, a figure that included the $9,950 cost of demolishing and removing a house at 3103 Layne St., earlier this year.

The ongoing burden to the city of maintaining the yards of unoccupied properties, which have often suffered bank foreclosure, has led to efforts in the state legislature to make it easier for municipalities to recover their costs.

Homeowners, landlords or banks and financial institutions that foreclose on homes, are expected to keep the exterior of the homes in conformance with city code.

That often means something as simple as keeping grass short.

At the other extreme, it might require demolition and removal of a house once it is condemned as unfit for human habitation.

If the owners do not perform this work, then the city must use staff time, or pay contractors, to do it.

Cities attempt to recover their costs by placing liens on the property, which must be satisfied before the house or the land can be sold.

Bellevue City Councilwoman Carol Blood has pushed for several years to get state senators to enact laws requiring banks or other financial institutions to provide a contact name and number whenever they foreclose on a property. That person would then be responsible for ensuring that payment is made.

Last year, she said, the Legislature provided some relief by making it harder for judges to dismiss municipal liens when they complicate the sale of a property.

The next step, she said, is to require a contact person to be listed.

“There are hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to cities all across this state,” she said.

Beyond the negligence of financial institutions, however, there remains the problem of individual property owners who do not maintain their vacant properties.

Blood said because the names, and often the addresses, of these property owners are known, the city should work harder to contact them and request payment.

That is a responsibility that most likely would be carried by the code enforcement division, she said.

“I’ve picked up the phone and tracked people down who were purposely avoiding paying,” Blood said.

“Sometimes it takes a little extra work, and it may be an extra burden on staff, but when you weigh the time spent on the phone with several thousands of dollars in liens, I think that’s time well spent.”

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