Banks Spared Toughest Regulations in New Ordinance

Vacant properties, such as the one here, must now be maintained by banks under a new city ordinance.

The Chicago City Council signed a new ordinance amendment into law Monday that increases upkeep requirements on bank-owned vacant properties, though housing advocates feel the measure did not go far enough.

Originally passed in July with the support of Mayor Emmanuel, the ordinance was meant to force banks to maintain the vacant properties that are dragging down home values on the South and West side neighborhoods, which have been hardest hit by the housing downturn.

Under the ordinance, banks would have been treated as the owners of the property even before foreclosure proceedings began, and as such would have been regulated in the same fashion as other Chicago homeowners.

The amendment passed on Monday, though, only requires banks to maintain a vacant property within 60 days of default. Such required maintenance would include boarding up the buildings, shoveling snow and cutting the grass. In addition, signs with phone numbers must be posted on the property. Violations of the requirements could lead to fines of $1,000 a day.

Judith Fryland, a city attorney who handles vacant property cases, said the measure is better than what the city had before.

“It’s something they never had to do before,” she said. “They’re the ones, I believe, who certainly have to step up to the plate once the owner is gone … They have to take control of what’s vacant, instead of the city chasing them around.”

Ernie Lukasik, though, of the nonprofit group Northwest Side Housing Center, was not as positive towards the measure.

“It amazes me that 60 days later, we’re looking at an amendment to weaken it,” Lukasik said, saying the new measure “would gut some of the most important provisions in this ordinance. It jeopardizes our children, our families, our first responders, our businesses and anyone — anyone — trying to make Chicago a home.”

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