Sen. Lesser Votes to End Blight of Abandoned Foreclosed Homes in Springfield

BOSTON- A measure co-sponsored by Senator Eric Lesser to allow cities to ensure proper maintenance of vacant and foreclosed properties passed the Senate yesterday. The bill allows cities to set up rules requiring foreclosing banks to post a bond at the time of foreclosure, operating much like a security deposit. The bond can be used by the city for basic maintenance of the abandoned building, should the bank fail to keep up maintenance of the building. The bank would be able to recollect the bond if it maintained the property. “Our cities were hit hard by the housing crisis. This bill will prevent blight, protect property values, and hold banks accountable for the properties they take into foreclosure,” Senator Lesser told his colleagues just before the vote. “Banks must make sure their properties are following very basic health and safety codes, just like any other homeowner. This legislation matters greatly to the people of Springfield. It will help us make sure our neighborhoods stay safe.”

In 2011, the Springfield City Council passed an ordinance to address the problem of abandoned and foreclosed properties. It required banks to post a bond with the city after they took a house into foreclosure, which would then be used to fund basic maintenance of the home until a new owner or occupant were found. If the bank maintained the property, they would be able to recollect their bond after selling the house.

Banks fought this responsibility in court. In 2014, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) struck down Springfield’s ordinance, citing state law as pre-emptive of the city’s ordinance. This decision has left the city struggling to maintain these abandoned properties. A similar court case is still pending in Worcester, where the city remains unable to enact their own similar ordinance because of the SJC decision.

This measure, authored by Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and co-sponsored by Senator Lesser, ensures that cities are empowered to enact ordinances that require cash sureties. It will allow Springfield and Worcester, in addition to other Gateway Cities recovering from the housing crisis, to re-instate their ordinances to require that foreclosed properties are kept up.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.