Commission: no to leniency on lien
Day after day neighbors watched the weeds grow up around 6804 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.
A daily $250 fine on the foreclosure property also continued to grow.
The fine, imposed in September 2007 by the city code enforcement board for “overgrowth,” resulted in a lien on the property that now stands as a barrier to its sale to neighbors Shawn and Jennifer Kaleta.
Shawn Kaleta appeared before the Holmes Beach City Commission and asked that the lien be lifted from the property or at least the fine reduced.
The commission consensus was “no.”
Kaleta, on his own, stopped the clock on the mounting fine by cleaning up the property now owned by GRP Loan in White Plains, N.Y., and formerly owned by developer Robert T. Byrne.
But the Kaletas’ purchase has been stalled by the discovery of the lien, which totals $57,250 - a $250 fine for 229 days.
Kaleta reviewed the property history for the commission.
“This is a foreclosure,” he said. “Basically the property was acquired two years ago. The investor never made a payment. Never touched the property.”
Eventually Byrne returned the property to the bank and it went into a foreclosure sale in February. Shawn Kaleta began to inquire about buying the property, hoping to tear down the structure and build anew.
“The day of the closing was the day we found out about the lien,” he said.
The Kaletas volunteered to clean up the property, which stopped the city fine from building. They also volunteered, on behalf of the bank, to ask the city to lift the lien.
“The previous owner is the one negligent,” Shawn Kaleta said. He added that if the lien is not lifted, the property “is just going to sit there.… You could be staring at it another year or two.”
Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens acknowledged that the previous owner was responsible for the code violation and the mounting fine. However, she said, “Someone did not do their job.”
Haas-Martens questioned how the bank was unaware of the lien.
“I worked in banking for 28 years,” she said. “When the bank takes back a piece of property, they normally do research to see if there are any other liens. I’m not happy with this.”
Commissioner David Zaccagnino suggested the city could reduce the fine but added, “We can’t just go ahead and start forgiving fees willy nilly.… It’s something that can’t just be dismissed.”
Zaccagnino and other commissioners said lifting the lien might jeopardize the integrity of the code enforcement board and process.
While Zaccagnino and John Monetti initially indicated an interest in reducing the fine, Commissioners Pat Morten, Pat Geyer and Haas-Martens seemed opposed to a reduced fine from the start.
“We’re going to ruin our code enforcement board,” Geyer said.
Morton said he feared opening the floodgate as foreclosures continue on the Island - and nationwide.
Mayor Rich Bohnenberger added, “Code enforcement has been having a real hard time with foreclosed properties.… And we’ve had problems with a lot of banks in this area.”