To prevent having to sink more funds into a constantly deteriorating property, Sharon Hill Borough Council has unanimously voted to sue Wells Fargo Bank and Nationstar Mortgage Company to take responsibility for a property both have been trying to foreclose on since last year.
Borough Manager Steve Travers said the issue of problem properties is not limited to Sharon Hill, but common across the country.
“If you Google foreclosure properties, all kinds of issues of holding the banks accountable come up,” he said. “These communities have been trying to get courts to force banks to take responsibility. The demography of these communities, with a slew of pocket-draining, owner-less vacated homes, is older, suburban and urbanized areas. Delaware County, with its variety of historic municipalities, fits the profile.”
Travers says the problem has worsened with the number of foreclosed homes stemming from the 2008 real estate collapse that hit many of Delco’s communities, including Sharon Hill, “really hard.”
“The banks don’t transfer the deeds,” he said about problem properties, and fail to legally document themselves as owners.
In September 2014, according to solicitor Michael Schleigh, previous Council members investigated the “physical condition” of an occupied single-family twin home in the 500 block of Clifton Ave. The house is still vacant and findings from the investigation revealed “a hole in the roof and some water leaking in.” The tenant was told the building was “unfit for human habitation” and was later relocated.
Schleigh said the borough tried locating a “proper, legal owner” but discovered the owner has been dead since 1998.
“No (one) stepped forward, no estate was raised, no one was taking care of the property,” he said.
Assuming the building was abandoned and unoccupied, an engineer, accompanied by police and borough officials, conducted another inspection under the Dangerous Building Ordinance and determined that “previous locks securing the property had been removed and someone else has been in there,” Schleigh said.
According to Schleigh, a company in charge of securing winterized properties as an agent of the bank, assumed ownership after removing the locks. “They took possession when they took the lock off; we believe they must take responsibility,”