Vacant and foreclosed properties in Madison are likely to get a facelift in coming months.

The City Council recently approved an ordinance to require financial institutions to inspect, secure and maintain abandoned properties. 

The measure will require banks, lenders and other financial institutions to register a property with the city when the property is foreclosed and vacant, Kyle Bunnow, housing inspection supervisor for the Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development, said in an email to The Badger Herald. It was passed unanimously by all members of the city committee before moving to the city council, he said. 

Financial institutions will be held responsible for maintaining the property, Bunnow said. This includes securing a safe property, removing trash, tending to the lawn and clearing sidewalks in winter, he added.

According to the ordinance, securing abandoned properties requires boarding or locking entries of buildings such as windows, doors and gates. Financial institutions must also perform inspections of abandoned properties, the ordinance said.

Ald. Anita Weier, District 18, said financial institutions that do not follow the ordinance would be fined.
Weier said she introduced the ordinance because she discovered some financial institutions were not maintaining abandoned properties and were allowing buildings to deteriorate.

According to studies released by the Woodstock Institute based in Chicago, foreclosed homes have decreased both property values and public safety in surrounding areas.

“If [properties are] not maintained, neighbors are affected,” Weier said.

Weier added that more than 100 cities nationwide previously enacted a similar ordinance, including Milwaukee, Boston and San Diego.

Property maintenance will help increase public safety by decreasing targets for vandalism and other nuisance activity, Bunnow said. It will also help prevent other dangers that come along with vacant properties, such as icy sidewalks in winter, he said.

“It only takes one home degrading in a neighborhood to start to affect the surrounding areas and communities. This ordinance helps establish a chain of control and responsibility over property maintenance that keeps that degradation from happening,” Bunnow said. 

The ordinance is designed to help identify the abandoned properties and encourage new developments, Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said. Developers and residents will have access to a list of the registered properties through the open data portal on the city’s website, he said. 

The ordinance is expected to positively impact the community, Bunnow said, particularly for neighbors of abandoned properties.

“If you were to live next to a vacant foreclosed house that isn’t being maintained and all of the sudden someone starts mowing the grass, shoveling the sidewalk and keeping the property secure it would certainly affect the neighbors in a big way,” Bunnow said.

Bunnow said enforcing the ordinance will be a gradual process that will pick up the abandoned properties as they appear. He said he hopes to have a process in place by winter this year.

Madison has maintained a low vacancy rate during the years, which Resnick said makes the area desirable.

“We’re very lucky in Madison because the number of vacant properties are very low,” Resnick said. “No one wants to live next to a vacant property.”