A council committee threw its support behind a proposed ordinance Wednesday night that would force banks to register properties they are foreclosing on, and sign an agreement with the city to maintain them.
"This will help us get a handle on foreclosure property that is plaguing Allentown," said David Paulus, head of the city's bureau of building standards, as he introduced the ordinance to city council's community and economic development committee.
The committee unanimously voted to recommend the ordinance to council, which will consider the proposal at its meeting next week.
The ordinance is intended to minimize blight, which is caused by abandoned, foreclosed or distressed homes, officials said.
A registry would be established by the ordinance that would include the name of the mortgage holder, a contact name and 24-hour telephone number of the property management company responsible for the security and maintenance of the property.
The mortgage holder would pay $200 to list each property every year, and would be fined $500 for failing to do so, the ordinance says.
Committee member Peter Schweyer spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying banks often leave foreclosed properties in the buyers name "so they can say, 'We're not legally responsible.' "
The committee decided to make no recommendation on about a dozen proposed amendments to the city's property rehabilitation and maintenance code.
The main stumbling block: an amendment requiring home and apartment building owners to have certified technicians service their oil-fired units every year and their gas-fired units every two years. Right now, a home or apartment building heating unit cannot be inspected more than once every five years, unless inspectors are called in because of a problem.
Committee member Julio Guridy said the amendment would be unenforceable, and that the inspection would be "an extra expense" on older residents "who can't afford it right now."
Paulus said having the amendment would help city inspectors assure the safety of heating units in pre-sale reviews and when rental properties change hands. And city health director Vicki Kistler said the inspections could prevent older residents from being victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Committee member Joe Davis said he thought the amendment had merit, while Schweyer said he wanted more time to think about it.
One other proposed amendment -- this one governing storage areas -- caused some discussion. The amendment would forbid storing "trash, debris, rubbish or flammable/combustible materials" in storage rooms, lockers, closets, and basements.
Paulus said the amendment was to deal with hoarding and not meant to affect people who simply collect things. When Davis asked how someone could tell the difference, he said, "With hoarders, you walk around their home and your feet never touch the ground. Maybe you're six to 12 inches off the ground, there's so much material. Doors can't be opened. They [hoarders] may not even know what's there."
Paulus said the mess created by a hoarder "harbors bugs and rodents and creates disease," adding it's a worse problem in neighborhoods with row homes.