Foreclosure blamed for West Nile case
An LA woman's suspicion that she got West Nile from an untended home pool is just one of many complaints about trouble from vacant foreclosures.
This post comes from Marilyn Lewis of MSN Money.
A Los Angeles woman is blaming a fetid swimming pool at the foreclosed home next door for her case of West Nile virus. Debbie Davis, who lives in the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood of Studio City, says she's spent months trying to get bank representatives and Los Angeles code enforcement and public health officials to clean up the "sludge pit" next door.
The five-bedroom home is "registered to U.S. Bank Trust, care of Bank of America in New York, according to the Los Angeles County tax assessor," the Los Angeles Daily News reports. Davis says she made 30 calls to the Bank of America field service office alone, using a phone number for complaints printed on a bank notice affixed to the home. She told the Daily News:
"The problem is, I've reported the pool to everybody. They're completely unresponsive."
Davis found out she had contracted West Nile virus when she tried donating blood. The newspaper makes no definitive link between her illness and the pool. Unknown to Davis, city workers were treating the pool with chemicals to kill mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, the article says.
The disease is on the rise this summer. "There were 26 human cases of West Nile virus across California this year, including four confirmed in Los Angeles County, according to public health officials," the Daily News says.
Adds MSN Healthy Living, "As of the third week of August, there have been a total of 1,118 cases of West Nile virus in people in 38 states, including 41 deaths." (Post continues below.)
Communities have been trying to get banks to take responsibility for vacant foreclosures since at least 2007, but the problem seems largely intractable. Banks often blame mortgage servicers, the companies that are hired to manage bank-owned properties, collect loan payments and foreclose when necessary.
The Toledo Free Press in Ohio describes issues in one neighborhood:
… grass and trash have claimed both houses, which are empty shells of siding and mortar with jagged holes where glass once covered window frames. At 551 Colburn St., a tiny window in the attic reveals a charred interior where a fire took hold just a few weeks ago.
(Jasmine) Ponce has witnessed these homes sink into disrepair. She's been kept awake at night by thieves who break into the house next door to rip out pipes and metal wiring. She's smelled the smoke billowing out from a fire two houses down.
The neglect invites problems, from crime and destruction by vandals, thieves and squatters to ugly lawns and decaying structures. This tale from a Cleveland suburb shows how dangerous an abandoned home can become:
… the basement has been underwater since a pipe burst. The house is so dangerous -- the interior is black with mold and the supporting timbers are rotten -- that "not even police officers will go inside," (law professor Kermit J.) Lind says. The potential liability is huge for those who, often unwittingly, own such homes. In Cleveland and other cities, fires in abandoned, foreclosed houses have spread, destroying both vacant properties and neighboring inhabited homes.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported on a wrongful-death lawsuit in Miami against U.S. Bank and other "corporate entities":
While his family was busy unpacking boxes and moving into the house next door, a toddler wandered into the backyard of an unoccupied, bank-owned house and drowned in the pool.
The boy's mother, Margarette Francis, told investigators the water was so dark and thick with "garbage" it was unrecognizable as a place to swim.
A U.S. Bank representative declined to comment.
Some banks do better at maintaining vacant foreclosures in white neighborhoods than in minority neighborhoods, the National Fair Housing Alliance has charged. Wells Fargo denied the accusation, saying it "conducts all lending-related activities in a fair and consistent manner without regard to race; this includes maintenance and marketing standards for all foreclosed properties for which we are responsible."
Cities push back
Cities have tried a host of tactics. Many hoped that keeping an inventory of foreclosed properties would help them hold banks responsible. But, as the LA swimming pool case shows, there's more to it. In a separate article, the Los Angeles Daily News reports that LA's foreclosure registry has nearly 18,000 homes -- an incomplete list -- yet problems remain unattended. One reason: The city has just 88 inspectors handling roughly 23,000 complaints a year.
This spring, the Sun Sentinel found "more than 10,300 property code violations lodged against banks in 10 South Florida cities since 2007." On "street after street . . . vacant properties sit decaying and forlorn," the newspaper says.
The city of Los Angeles filed suit against U.S. Bank this summer. The Daily News writes, "Of its 1,500 foreclosed properties, according to the suit, 170 are blighted, including 37 in the San Fernando Valley" (north of LA). The city has also sued Deutsche Bank.
In some cities, angry residents have dumped trash at the banks they hold responsible for property neglect. Trash protests took place in Chicago, San Diego, Boston and Oakland. In San Jose, Calif., last year, trash activists targeted the wrong bank.
"We take our responsibility to neighborhoods very seriously," Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens told The Boston Globe. She invited residents of any town to report rundown Bank of America properties at fieldservices.bankofamerica.com, and said, "We take immediate action."
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