Cook County Soldiers On with Vacant Property Crackdown

by Chicago Agent

Cook County is moving forward with a vacant property ordinance in spite of recent litigation against similar actions in Chicago.

Cook County commissioners are moving forward with an enforcement ordinance against vacant properties despite a lawsuit from the Federal Housing Finance Agency against the city of Chicago for similar measures, reports the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Lisa Donovan.

Targeted at unkempt vacant homes that poorly influence the value of neighboring properties, Cook County’s new laws would, like Chicago’s, force the owners of the vacant properties to register annually, pay a one-time fee ($250 in Cook County’s case) and then follow guidelines for maintaining the property.

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who Donovan wrote was a leading advocate for the measures, said the maintenance laws return housing to its basics.

“The way the market was supposed to work, the person who holds the mortgage works to maintain the value of that asset,” Gainer said. “That’s not happening now.”

“Right now, if you have someone go in to default, it’s two years for that bank to get title. What’s supposed to happen in two years?” Gainer continued. “Homes aren’t meant to sit vacant, they develop mold. They become magnets for crime.”

As Gainer indicated in her last comment, along with the falling property values and a shrinking property tax base, Cook County also has neighborhood crime rates to consider. Vacant properties often become hotbeds for criminal activity, and the county has previously strategized ways to confront that trend.

According to Donovan’s article, Gainer met with JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and the communities of Oak Park and Evanston to work out protocols for home maintenance, from boarding up windows and doors to keeping grass and weeds lower than 10 inches.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, though initially skeptical of the ordinance’s chances in a court of law, ultimately supported it after consulting with her legal counsel and the state’s attorney.

“I thought it was a good idea, but if the federal government is going to sue the city, we need to look at our ordinance again,” Preckwinkle had said.

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